MONTGOMERY — The House Public Safety and Homeland Security Committee voted Wednesday to once again delay voting on legislation that would bolster local law enforcement’s ability to work with federal agencies to enforce immigration laws.

For the second week in a row, the committee postponed voting on House Bill 376 (HB376), also called the Laken Riley Act. 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 received backlash from several Immigration advocates, including Jerome Dees, the policy director for the Southern Policy Law Center. Opponents claim the bill will allow for targeting and discrimination against illegal immigrants.

Last week, the committee voted to move the bill into a subcommittee. The bill was on the calendar for a vote on Wednesday. However, subcommittee chairman State Rep. Shane Stringer (R-Citronelle) announced that lawmakers were still negotiating with law enforcement interests to tinker with the details. Stringer motioned to carry the bill over for another week, which unanimously passed.  

Public Safety and Homeland Security Committee chairman State Rep. Alan Treadaway (R-Morris) reassured the audience that they were taking the legislation seriously. He also detailed encounters with illegal immigrant criminals during his time with law enforcement.

“Law enforcement needs to hold these types of people accountable, and this is an additional tool,” Treadaway said. “The reason I put it in subcommittee was to work on the concerns the community has and make sure we’re addressing everybody’s concerns and with law enforcement.”

“We’re trying to work with everybody involved and making sure we alleviate fears of what’s exactly going on here. We get our hands on these types of individuals over and over, and we have to let them go over and over. Only to go back into the community and violate individuals,” he continued.

After the meeting, Treadaway told reporters he was confident the bill would be voted on next week after lawmakers had more time to work out the details.

Saying he did not want to compel local law enforcement to do the federal government’s job for them, Treadaway said sheriffs are concerned the bill would require them to house illegal immigrants in jail for extended periods.

“There’s a lot of concerns on the sheriffs’ side as far as looking at the bill, is this going to create folks in their county jails that they just don’t have space for, but that’s not the intent of the bill,” Treadaway said. “I think what we need to do is clear up some language of what the intent of the bill is…”

“When we get our hands on someone who’s committed a violent crime in our state, a lot of times they fall apart as far as witnesses showing up, giving initial statements we have the evidence on that they’ve committed a crime. Well, they’re allowed to make bond. If they’re here illegally and committed a crime like that, we need another tool to be able to hold these individuals and turn them over to immigration officials.”

Treadaway repeatedly stated that the bill’s intent was not to have law enforcement round up illegal aliens en masse but rather give police a tool to hold and turn over individuals who have committed crimes while in the country illegally.

“This is not about rounding up folks who are here illegally and not breaking our laws; we don’t have the resources for that,” Treadaway continued. “That’s not what we’re trying to do here. We’re not trying to separate families: children who have been born here and parents who have been brought here when they were young themselves. That’s not the intent.”

Subcommittees have two purposes in Alabama politics. A bill can be sent to a subcommittee to die on the vine quietly. On the other hand, subcommittees can help hammer out essential details, thereby creating a palatable bill when it goes for a full vote. Treadaway stated emphatically that HB376 is in the latter sort. With only eight legislative days remaining in this session, Yarbrough’s bill is cutting it razor-close.

“I’ve never put stuff in a subcommittee just to kill it,” Treadaway said. “I feel like there’s legitimate concerns addressing this bill. [Stringer] has told me they’re very close, so I expect it most likely to be up for a vote next week, which still gives it enough time to pass. But yes, it’s getting towards the end. But again, it’s better to have a bill right than to just push something through, especially something like the bill we’re talking about.”

According to Treadaway, Republican House support for the bill would be “overwhelming” if they can get it right.

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