By James Chilton, Cowboy State Daily
CHEYENNE – A Casper legislator said he intends to continue his efforts to ban sanctuary cities in the state as momentum behind the issue continues to build amid the crisis on the U.S.-Mexico border.
Although no cities in Wyoming identify themselves as sanctuary cities, Rep. Chuck Gray, R-Casper, said the prohibition he seeks needs to be spelled out as a part of state law.
“I think laws should be followed. I don’t want sanctuary cities here in Wyoming,” Gray said. “The people of Wyoming want us to get ahead of this and ban sanctuary cities; that’s what’s going to help us be successful.”
This month, Florida became the most recent state to pass legislation seeking to ban sanctuary cities – those cities where law enforcement agencies and local governments limit their cooperation with federal immigration authorities.
It’s the latest development in a growing movement among states seeking to go on the record as opposing policies adopted by some cities and counties to shield undocumented immigrants from deportation or family separation by Immigrations and Custom Enforcement.
The modern notion of sanctuary cities dates back to 1989, when San Francisco passed a “City and County of Refuge” ordinance blocking city employees from using city resources to assist federal enforcement of immigration law except for some legally-mandated situations. With Florida’s action, 12 states have now passed laws seeking to prohibit or discourage local adoption of sanctuary city policies, and the National Conference of State Legislatures counts at least 21 other state legislatures considering similar legislation in the near- to mid-future.
Wyoming has been on that latter list for several years now, with the most recent effort to curb sanctuary cities being spearheaded by Gray.
“My bill would ban sanctuary cities in state statute and prevent any state funds from going to sanctuary cities,” he said. “I wrote it myself; it’s not based on any model legislation. But I think it’s comparable (to bans passed by other states).”
Gray’s first attempt at introducing a bill to block sanctuary cities during the 2018 budget session failed to get the two-thirds vote needed for introduction. This year, his bill’s latest incarnation, House Bill 151, didn’t face that hurdle and made it out of the House Corporations Committee on a 5-4 vote, only to be defeated in the House by a vote of 22 to 36.
Gray said he was “disturbed” by that vote, stressing that while Wyoming doesn’t presently have any sanctuary city policies in place — Jackson was erroneously listed as one back in 2010 — there’s no good reason to leave that option on the table.
Byron Oedekoven, executive director of the Wyoming Association of Sheriffs and Chiefs of Police, said his association’s members largely consider the issue a moot point given the lack of any meaningful push for sanctuary city policies in Wyoming. His bigger concern, he said, would be if the Legislature were to try to prohibit local law enforcement from cooperating with the feds.
“If they said ‘let’s do the opposite’ and they create a sanctuary law saying we couldn’t cooperate with the fed, we would be diametrically opposed to that,” Oedekoven said. “By virtue of our position and oath of office, we want to uphold the law; and the law is, if you have a warrant for the guy and he’s supposed to be arrested, we would want to see him arrested.”
Dave Fraser, executive director of the Wyoming Association of Municipalities, said his group took a “monitor” position on Gray’s bill in the previous session – effectively a neutral stance – also citing the lack of any real sanctuary city push among WAM’s membership. That said, Fraser expects the bill, or rather its potential successor, may get some attention at WAM’s annual membership convention next month in Sheridan.
“I’m aware of this as a national issue and I understand that some of our state representatives may want to take positions on that; but for our part, I’m not sure we would object to such legislation if none of our cities intended to go that route,” Fraser said. “If our cities were contemplating it, that would influence how active we would be on taking a position on that.”