Republican Wants to Lock Up Lawmakers Who Protect Sanctuary Cities

Using stats from an accused hate group, an Ohio state representative would make it a felony to pass legislation that helps undocumented immigrants.

Photo Illustration by The Daily Beast

A Republican lawmaker in Ohio wants to make it a felony for her colleagues to protect sanctuary cities—and is using dubious or debunked facts to make her case.

Ohio Rep. Candice Keller, a freshman legislator, has proposed a bill that would crack down on so-called sanctuary cities that protect immigrants from federal authorities. Early versions of the bill, which is expected to be introduced this week, would make it a felony for officials to pass laws that shield undocumented immigrants—and allow people to sue individual lawmakers for millions over these immigrants’ crimes. Speaking in defense of the bill this week, Keller alleged thousands of crimes were committed by undocumented immigrants in sanctuary cities.

“There are 8,000 unauthorized immigrants with criminal records that have been treated by sanctuary cities despite the fact that federal authorities have been requested that they be turned over for deportations,” Keller told reporters earlier this week, according to Ohio Public Radio.

“And so in eight months’ time, 7,500 new charges [were] placed on many of those people, including child sex abuse. A lot of the culture and a lot of what we are seeing come in includes not only terrorism and crime but sexual assault, sexually transmitted diseases, child marriage, child rape and prostitution. Six states have already reported rape and sexual assault. Refugees many times say this is sanctioned in their culture and religion and that they simply don’t wish to assimilate into our culture.”

Keller did not return multiple requests for comment on Wednesday. Ohio Rep. Dan Ramos, who is planning opposing legislation that would protect the state’s sanctuary cities, said the figures don’t match the numbers he knows.

“I don’t know where she got that information,” Ramos told The Daily Beast. “It’s something I’ve never seen.”

While Keller did not cite her sources, she appeared to be drawing from a single disputed report from the Center for Immigration Studies, a self-described “low-immigration” think tank with a history of making outlandish claims on immigrants’ crimes. Though CIS bills itself as nonpartisan, the group has been slammed by civil rights groups like the SPLC, which accused it of presenting misleading data in order to serve its mission of stemming immigration.

“To make its case seem as strong as possible, CIS often manipulates data, relying on shaky statistics or faulty logic to come to the preordained conclusion that immigration is bad for this country,” the SPLC wrote in 2010, citing three CIS reports that variously implied that immigrants constitute a disproportionate share of welfare beneficiaries (they don’t), that increased border patrol efforts were slowing immigration (unverified), and that fraudulent green card marriages could make the U.S. vulnerable to terrorist attacks (speculation, by CIS’s own admission).

The numbers Keller cites appear to come from a 2015 CIS study based on a Department of Homeland Security report. The report only covered eight months in 2014 and in municipalities that have policies that restrict city interaction with immigration officials. The CIS report claims that sanctuary cities “caused the release of more than 8,000 criminal alien offenders sought by ICE [Immigrations and Customs Enforcement] for deportation,” and that nearly 7,500 of these immigrants reoffended after the city allowed their release.

But other immigration experts say the report is misleading because it is based on ICE detainers, which are notices sent to local law enforcement to request custody of an immigrant, or information on when an immigrant will be released from incarceration. When CIS refers to “criminal aliens” that are “released” in sanctuary cities, the organization is referring to instances in which cities rejected ICE detainers.

Cities are not legally required to comply with ICE detainers, an expert with the American Immigration Council, an immigrant-rights think tank, told The Daily Beast. And a rejected detainer does not mean an immigrant avoided arrest. A city might have detained the immigrant in jail and declined to turn them over to ICE, or ICE might have arrested the immigrant without the city’s help.

Even Keller’s claim that sanctuary cities sheltered “8,000 unauthorized immigrants with criminal records” is not necessarily supported by the DHS report on which the CIS study is based. The DHS report addresses detainers for “individuals who were previously charged or convicted of a crime or presented some other public safety concern.” The immigrants might have been charged of a crime but were found innocent, or might have been flagged without any charges at all. And those convicted of crimes might have been booked for illegally entering and reentering the country, the AIC spokesperson noted.

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Keller suggested undocumented immigrants made cities vulnerable to “not only terrorism and crime but sexual assault, sexually transmitted diseases, child marriage, child rape and prostitution.” But even when an immigrant avoided arrest by ICE and went on to commit a crime, their offenses were minor, seldom the garish attacks Keller described.

“The top criminal arresting charges after a declined detainer are dangerous drugs (10 percent of all charges), driving under the influence of liquor (7 percent), traffic offense (6 percent), stolen vehicle (5 percent), and arson (5 percent),” the DHS report said.

Of the thousands of undocumented immigrants not detained by ICE, the agency identified six who had committed “particularly high-profile crimes against person(s) and/or property.”

And the vast majority of undocumented immigrants do not commit crimes while in the country; in fact, studies suggest, immigrants are less likely than U.S. natives to commit a crime.

“This idea that not only are these folks undocumented but they’re committing all these other crimes, every piece of evidence I find says the opposite is true: that undocumented folks tend to commit less crime than native-born people,” Ramos said, citing an AIC study that found that 1.6 percent of immigrant men aged 18-39 were incarcerated, as opposed to 3.3 percent of U.S.-born men in the same age group.

But under Keller’s proposed legislation, legislators who helped protect undocumented immigrants could become criminals themselves. The proposed bill’s current text would make it a fourth-degree felony for an official to pass laws restricting cooperation with federal immigrations officials.

Offending lawmakers could face up to 18 months in jail and $5,000 fine, the Associated Press reports. Under the proposed legislation, people injured by undocumented immigrants could sue lawmakers for up to $1 million, or up to $3 million if more than two people were injured.

“That is one of the more frankly ridiculous portions of this proposed legislation,” Ramos said. “We don’t lock people up for crimes they didn’t commit in the United States of America, and that’s what this is proposing to do. Even if this were to pass… who do you lock up? The gentleman who proposed the law? The people who voted for it? The people later on who didn’t repeal it?”