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Kentucky Lawmakers Advance Anti-Sanctuary Cities Bill

J. Tyler Franklin

A bill that would require Kentucky cities, agencies and public employees to comply with federal immigration officials has cleared the first step in the legislative process.

The anti-sanctuary cities bill passed out of the state Senate’s Judiciary Committee on Thursday with a 7-2 vote. Lexington Republican Sen. Alice Forgy Kerr and Louisville Democratic Sen. Gerald Neal voted against the measure.

Opponents have decried the measure as an expansion of law enforcement powers to untrained employees, saying it would sew mistrust in the immigrant community.


Omar Salinas-Chacón with the ACLU of Kentucky said he was worried that the bill would open the door for universities to crack down on student immigrants if the Supreme Court overturns Deferred Action For Childhood Arrivals, or DACA.

“This opens up for campus security to cooperate with immigration and would put university administration in cooperation with ICE and the deportation of their own students,” Salinas-Chacón said.

“I think that’s an uncomfortable position for our universities to be in.”

DACA, is an Obama administration policy that allows immigrants brought as children to the U.S. to stay. The U.S. Supreme Court is currently considering whether the policy is legal.

The anti-sanctuary cities bill has been designated a top priority by the Republican-led Kentucky Senate.

After initial outcry, bill sponsor Sen. Danny Carroll, a Republican, amended the measure to exempt several public agencies from the policy, including rape crisis centers, public defenders, health departments and children’s advocacy centers. Public schools are exempted from the bill, but universities are not.

Carroll defended the bill on Thursday, accusing reporters and opponents of misrepresenting the issue.

“It’s disappointing that the statements made at this table are going to scare illegal immigrants in this state from seeking the services that they need. This bill does nothing to do that, it creates nothing new,” Carroll said.

Several opponents of the bill packed into the committee room on Thursday to protest the measure, loudly cheering those who spoke against it and groaning at Carroll and other supporters.

In 2018, the federal government said Kentucky had no cities with sanctuary policies that barred officials from cooperating with immigration officers.

But Carroll singled out Louisville’s policy requiring local police to only assist immigration officials if they have a warrant signed by a judge or if there is a risk for danger or violence, saying it would be out of compliance with the anti-sanctuary bill.

Susan Montalvo-Gesser with Catholic Charities said Kentucky officials and employees aren’t trained on federal immigration law and they shouldn’t be required to enforce it.

“SB 1 will make us less safe. SB 1 is not who we are as Kentuckians. We ask you to let police officers do what they’re meant to do — protect and serve. Not ask Kentuckians ‘show me your papers,’” Montalvo-Gesser said.

The bill is now eligible to be voted on by the full state Senate.

Ryland Barton is the Managing Editor for Collaboratives. He's covered politics and state government for NPR member stations KWBU in Waco and KUT in Austin. He has a bachelor's degree from the University of Chicago and a master's degree in journalism from the University of Texas. He grew up in Lexington.

Email Ryland at
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