MONTGOMERY — The House Public Safety and Homeland Security Committee voted to advance legislation bolstering local law enforcement’s ability to work with federal agencies to enforce immigration laws after weeks of delays.

House Bill 376 (HB376), also called the Laken Riley Act, is sponsored by State Rep. Ernie Yarbrough (R-Trinity). The bill seeks to allow law enforcement to partner with federal immigration agencies to enforce federal immigration and customs laws and the detention, removal, and investigation of illegal aliens and the immigration status of any person.

The bill's name comes from the February abduction and murder of Laken Riley, who was an undergraduate student at the Augusta University nursing school and a former student at the University of Georgia. The suspect in the case is a 26-year-old illegal immigrant, Jose Antonio Ibarra, from Venezuela, who police say abducted her while she was jogging on the UGA campus.

After a public hearing on April 3, the bill was placed into a subcommittee to hammer out details and address concerns of law enforcement interests in the state. The Homeland Security Committee delayed voting on the bill for two weeks in a row.

The public hearing exclusively featured immigration advocates speaking in opposition to the bill for the perceived discrimination against illegal immigrants or Hispanic people in general.

After weeks of debate over the details, the committee passed a substituted bill that addressed the concerns of lawmakers and law enforcement in the state.

“The purpose of this bill is to help state and local law enforcement keep our communities safe in the event that an illegal immigrant engages in criminal behavior by providing a 48-hour window for law enforcement to coordinate with the federal government to help them enforce already existing federal immigration laws,” Yarbrough said.

The amended legislation removed penalties for specific reporting requirements to the Alabama Law Enforcement Agency while still requiring quarterly immigration-related reporting by local jails and detention centers. The amendment also left the enforcement of the bill’s provisions up to local governments while removing any potential financial loss to local law enforcement for noncompliance.

It also added language requiring officers to act in good faith while enforcing the bill’s provisions in compliance with already existing laws.

In addition, at the request of House Minority Leader Anthony Daniels (D-Huntsville), the bill reiterates that any detained illegal immigrant would be afforded all of their constitutional rights.

State Rep Ron Bolton (R-Northport) applauded Yarbrough for working with the sundry parties to reach a palatable compromise.

Representatives with the Alabama Sheriff’s Association told 1819 News that they still oppose the bill because it puts the federal government’s responsibility on departments that are already stretched thin. 

State Rep. TaShina Morris (D-Montgomery) also applauded Yarbrough for working with concerned parties, reiterating that the bill was not designed to target individuals.

“For the record, this is not just a targeting bill, right?” Morris asked. “It’s not, someone is riding, and a police officer is looking just to stop someone?”

“Well, for example, the name of the bill, the individual in conversation is accused of taking the life of Laken Riley, already had multiple engagements with law enforcement up to that point,” Yarbrough stated. “So, the desire is that, if that happens, we have empowered local law enforcement in some way to help keep our community safe,” Yarbrough responded.

After limited discussion, the committee passed the bill with only two members abstaining from the vote. The bill now goes to the House for a vote. With limited time left in this legislative session, the bill faces an uphill battle to final passage before the session concludes.

The bill states that "state and local law enforcement agencies may enter into memorandums of understanding and agreements with the United States Department of Justice, the Department of Homeland Security, and any other federal agency for the purpose of enforcing federal immigration and customs laws and the detention, removal, and investigation of illegal aliens and the immigration status of any person in this state."

The bill would additionally:

·      Require state and local government employees to maintain information relating to the immigration status of any individual.

·      Allow state and local law enforcement officers to transport an illegal alien to the federal government's custody.

·      Allow local law enforcement to arrest an illegal alien based on his or her status as an illegal alien or for violating any federal immigration law.

·      Create standard procedures for the intake and booking of illegal aliens and foreign nationals in county and municipal jails.

·      Require jails to honor immigration detainer requests issued by the Department of Homeland Security in certain circumstances.

·      Require quarterly reports by county and municipal jails regarding foreign nationals.

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