Immigration advocates and state legislators across the country had their hands full protecting “sanctuary cities” this past legislative term.
These cities and local municipalities are known for enforcing policies that prohibited local law enforcement from working with federal immigration authorities without just cause. Louisiana, in particular, faced unique challenges Robert Tasman, executive director of the Louisiana Conference of Catholic Bishops (LCCB), attributes to the conflicting values of its residents and leaders.
“Louisiana possesses a fascinating dichotomy,” said Tasman. “On the one hand, we are a state [that] is deeply rooted in faith and uphold the value and sacredness of the family unit; [but] on the other hand, we are a very conservative state politically, which can certainly influence our politicians’ views on immigration.”
Specifically, Rep. Valarie Hodges sponsored a bill seeking to prohibit local governments and state agencies from establishing “sanctuary policies.” It sought to penalize the governments and agencies by making them ineligible for state loans for major infrastructure projects if they did not abide by the law.
With a statewide immigrant population of approximately 183,000 people and two of its biggest cities potentially affected in a major way, advocates mobilized quickly.
“At a time when a city such as New Orleans is struggling every day to keep its citizens safe, choosing to attack policies aimed at providing cooperation between law enforcement and the immigrant community would in fact make communities less safe,” said Tasman.
LCCB successfully advocated against the proposed bill by employing the follow strategy:
- Developing a clear message – Advocates argued “sanctuary policies” make communities safer by building trust between constituents and law enforcement. Proposed laws like House Bill 151 would insight fear in immigrant communities and force them into the shadows.
- Allow flexibility when strategizing – Tasman stated this was the first time advocates encountered a local issue gaining national support due to testimony from officials outside the state. This “forced” them to adjust and add in more national tactics.
- Evaluate progress early and change course as necessary – Tasman stated that once it was clear the state House committee was in favor of the bill, advocates redirected resources toward the state Senate committee the bill was assigned. This action was to help the bill “receive a fair hearing.”
Tasman, also, stated their work was done “quietly and intentionally without media attention,” which he attributes to their success of keeping the bill from passing. The LCCB’s goal was to defeat the bill, and “too much attention [could] be detrimental to intended outcomes.” This is a tactic Louisiana advocates have employed for years, which many feels “effectively” informs policy makers of their position and uses the “legislative process to provide a valuable voice.”
Ultimately, the bill did not receive enough votes in the state Senate subcommittee.
In regards to the next legislative term, LCCB seeks to continue with these strategies, while increasing education on the Catholic Church’s approach to comprehensive immigration reform.
“We will be stressing “Dignity over Documents,” and appealing to the hearts of our lawmakers such that they recognize all created individuals as having dignity and worth,” said Tasman.