Louisiana lawmakers are considering a bill that would ban sanctuary cities in their state, but they learned recently that the state's largest city, New Orleans, may have been forced, or at least encouraged, to become a safe haven for criminal illegal aliens.
And the entity pushing the city to ignore federal immigration laws was the federal government itself.
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In 2010, New Orleans Mayor Mitch Landrieu, a Democrat, asked President Obama's Justice Department, under then-Attorney General Eric Holder, to conduct an investigation into alleged corruption and discrimination within the city's police department. The city entered into a court-approved consent decree with the feds in 2012 requiring sweeping reforms of the New Orleans Police Department.
The city's police department now operates essentially under federal supervision.
Among the reforms were new policies governing the way police officers treat suspects and witnesses who appear to be recent immigrants. They are not allowed to ask about their immigration status, one of the hallmarks of a sanctuary city.
Since 2012, New Orleans has become a notorious sanctuary city, refusing to turn over criminal aliens to the federal Immigration and Customs Enforcement, or ICE. It is one of more than 300 such sanctuaries in the U.S.
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Edu Varela-Lopez, a 26-year-old Honduran man and illegal immigrant, fled North Carolina, where he was suspected in the shooting death of a man found lying on an exit off Interstate 85 in Durham, the Times Picayune reported. He was arrested in New Orleans Aug. 11, 2015, where he was working on a construction site.
Illegal Guatemalan immigrant Pedro Alberto Monterroso was captured and then released by Border Patrol agents in Texas. He traveled to a New Orleans suburb in 2014 and bludgeoned his girlfriend to death in her apartment before fleeing to the Houston area with three of his children, the New York Daily News reported.
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Another illegal, Hermes Rivera, was arrested near New Orleans in April 2015 and charged with raping the 10-year-old daughter of his girlfriend multiple times, WGNO reported.
So the legislature decided to act.
Last Thursday, the state House advanced House Bill 151 out of committee. The bill, authored by Rep. Valarie Hodges, R-Denham Springs, would require all cities in Louisiana to comply with federal immigration laws or lose their ability to get bond financing for building projects.
But passage of the bill could potentially set up a conflict with the U.S. Justice Department, which has been, at the very least, encouraging New Orleans to violate its own federal immigration laws.
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State Attorney General Jeff Landry is trying to get clarification from U.S. Attorney General Loretta Lynch on exactly what the federal government is requiring in the way of dealings will illegals in New Orleans and whether the consent decree with the city is in conflict with the state's proposed new law.
Landry sent a letter to Lynch dated April 27 that asks several questions, seeking a response within 15 days. First among the questions is this: Did the U.S. Department of Justice require New Orleans to adopt sanctuary policies and, if so, how could the DOJ "authorize such a defilement of federal law."
Landry said at last week's hearing he cannot believe there is a conflict, because that would mean the federal government was encouraging a city through a court-ordered decree to violate federal law. And the House attorneys advised lawmakers that if there was a conflict, the consent decree would not be enforceable.
'No doubt' the two are in conflict
State Rep. Joseph Lopinto, R-Metaire, said there is little doubt that the two documents – the state's proposed new law and the federal consent decree governing the New Orleans Police Department – are in conflict.
"Have you looked at the consent agreement? I mean, look, I'm not opposed to the bill, but let's be honest, it does conflict with the consent agreement. I mean it is what it is," Lopinto said. "It says they shall not question victims or witnesses of a crime regarding their immigration status."
Rep. Chad Brown, D-Plaquemine, agreed.
"I read the consent decree over and over several times yesterday, and I do echo Rep. Lapinto that it just seems like it does conflict with what we're trying to do here, and that's just my opinion," Brown said.
Hodges objected to an amendment to her bill that she said would "take all the teeth out of it." She said there is a convicted killer right now sitting in a New Orleans jail cell who fled California and was arrested on a charge of aggravated battery in New Orleans, which has refused to turn him over to ICE.
Watch Rep. Valarie Hodges' impassioned speech against sanctuary cities on the floor of the Louisiana State House:
"This is already a federal law that you cannot create sanctuary cities, but there's nothing with teeth, and that's all we're trying to do. Look, I love New Orleans; it's the biggest draw to Louisiana. It's got great tourism, great food. New Orleans has been the face of Louisiana," she said.
"But what we don't want is a city that is harboring criminals. This is America. And it is a privilege to be here, to be living in America. I lived in a foreign country for 25 years and would kiss the ground when I would come back, and when I was in that foreign country I went there legally. I had to come back every six months and get my papers. … And that's all we're saying is they need to be here legally. But to me, it's un-American to say we're not cooperating with the federal government, we're not cooperating with ICE or with Homeland Security if we have a criminal.
"And there is a case right now, there is someone in jail in New Orleans who committed murder in California, was convicted of murder in California, and somehow made his way to New Orleans and was arrested for aggravated battery," Hodges said. "ICE told me they wanted this man, and New Orleans said, 'No, we're not giving him to you.' To me that is outrageous, it's uncalled for, un-American. We are setting a very low bar here. All we're saying is, follow the law. Cooperate with ICE if there is a criminal.
"The citizens of Louisiana are more important than criminals being able to stay here," she continued. "And that's all we're asking of the city officials: Follow the law so we can keep our citizens safe."
Citing federal statutes, Landry notes that recent policy changes by the New Orleans Police Department are in direct violation of the law.
"I am perplexed by the implication that the U.S. Department of Justice would require – through a federal consent decree – any city or law enforcement authority or officer to not cooperate with federal authorities," Landry said in a statement emailed to WND. "Nor, can I believe that a federal court would approve language in any consent decree that would force a municipality or its law enforcement agency or officials to knowingly and intentionally violate unambiguous federal law."
During testimony on the legislation banning sanctuary cities, several people, including state Rep. Jimmy Harris who represents New Orleans, testified that the DOJ "mandated" the city to adopt sanctuary policies.
Hodges beat back an attempt by Harris to water down her bill. The reason Harris said he could not support the bill as written was because it conflicted with the federal consent decree, and he could not allow the city of New Orleans to lose access to capital financing through state bond issuances.
"It's not fair to us," Harris said.
But Landry, who spoke at the hearing, explained that the city of New Orleans has a choice – obey federal immigration laws or lose access to funding.
"Rep. Harris, I would just say you are not in any way taking away the ability of the city to access financing, but what you are simply doing is making sure that elected official has a choice. The choice is, if he changes his policies in a way that protects his citizens, he has access to the funding," Landry said.
"It' s a simple right or wrong choice," the state attorney general added. "My child, every day I teach him the difference between right and wrong. But I can't compel him to be right, or to be wrong. He simply has a choice. So you as the legislature are simply saying look, we have a compelling interest to make sure our citizens are kept safe. And we believe that these policies impact the ability of law enforcement to protect our communities.
"We're saying you, Mr. Mayor, have a choice. So you're not taking away his funding. The ability to take away the funding is the mayor's choice. If he does not adopt a policy that is more in line with the rest of Louisiana, then he has made a conscious effort, a choice, to take away funding from his citizens."
Landry said New Orleans "has a crime problem that has been festering, it's an epidemic."
He said the culture of crime is aided and abetted by the perception that the rule of law doesn't carry any weight.
He said New York City faced the same dilemma under Mayor Rudi Guliani in the 1990s
"I would say we should look to New York City. What it did in the 1990s is to recognize that the way that you fix crime is you recognize crime is a result of disorder," Landry said. "They decided to do something about misdemeanors. It's the broken windows theory, that basically says when you walk into that neighborhood and see a broken window and no one fixes it, it sends a signal that no one cares. It's the same when we allow someone into our country illegally; we send a message to our citizens that no one cares. We have a front door in all of our homes. You have a lock. It's there for a reason."
Rep. Mike Johnson, R-Bossier City, said he didn't see any conflict between the proposed law and the consent decree.
Landry warned that the encouragement of sanctuary policies increases costs to taxpayers and endangers the safety of Louisiana citizens.
In introducing the law, Hodges referenced the fatal shooting of Kate Steinle on July 1, 2015, on a pier in San Francisco while walking with her father. She was shot by an illegal alien from Mexico who had been arrested and deported several times only to find safe haven in San Francisco, one of more than 300 sanctuary cities and counties in the U.S.
“Sanctuary policies undermine justice and the rule of law. They jeopardize public safety and have a burdensome financial toll on government,” said Landry. “Sanctuary policies encourage further illegal immigration, undermine anti-terrorism efforts, and promote an underground economy that sabotages the tax base. They also waste much-needed public resources as they force the federal government to find and arrest deportable criminals already taken into custody by local law enforcement.”
"The citizens of our state and those who travel here from across the world deserve a Louisiana where government officials are not actively undermining the rule of law,” he added. “As Louisiana's chief legal officer, I will continue to ensure that the Constitution is upheld and that no one is above the law.”