LANSING, Mich. - A fatal shooting in San Francisco is prompting Michigan lawmakers to propose legislation aimed at cracking down on cities they suspect of harboring immigrants who are in the country illegally.
Since the July 1 slaying along a pier, which sparked national attention, at least four Republicans have announced bills, one already introduced Wednesday in the state Senate.
It would prohibit local governments from enforcing "sanctuary city" policies that restrict public employees from asking about an individual's immigration status. The bill, sponsored by GOP Sen. Mike Kowall of Oakland County's White Lake Township, also would cut off state funding to the municipalities.
Michigan has two known sanctuary cities, Detroit and Ann Arbor, though Kowall said he plans to research whether other communities may unofficially limit their cooperation with the federal government.
Juan Francisco Lopez-Sanchez, a Mexican national without legal status, is accusing of killing 32-year-old Kathryn Steinle as she walked with her father and a family friend. He had been released from jail in April even though immigration officials had lodged a detainer to try to deport him from the country for a sixth time.
"We're not beyond having something like that happen over here," Kowall said. "We're there to protect the public. That's what we should be doing."
In 2007, the Detroit City Council approved an anti-profiling law that also bars police from ascertaining a person's compliance with immigration laws or investigating the immigration status of a crime victim or witness. The ordinance permits police to ask about immigration status while aiding federal law enforcers in a criminal investigation or when processing someone under arrest.
There also are exceptions so city employees can check people's immigration status for employment and as a condition of qualifying for government benefits.
Ann Arbor's council in 2003 directed the police chief to limit immigration enforcement to criminal, not administrative, violations except in cases of "legitimate public safety concern." It is a crime to enter the country illegally; staying here once a visa expires is a civil penalty subject to deportation.
The resolution was a response to concerns about civil liberty erosions under the post-Sept. 11 Patriot Act.
Susan Reed, supervising attorney for the Michigan Immigrant Rights Center, said while Detroit and Ann Arbor police can only interact with U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement in limited ways, the policies likely would not have extended to a scenario like the "horrible" slaying in California.
San Francisco Sheriff's Department declined to honor a request to keep Lopez-Sanchez in custody for 48 hours until they could pick him up for deportation proceedings. The sheriff has defended his decision, saying he was following a broader city sanctuary law and a more specific ordinance that applies to federal immigration detainers.
Immigrant advocates in Michigan are seeking a commitment from local law enforcement not to contact immigration "every time someone ends up getting pulled over and doesn't end up having a license - some of those very low-level basic interactions - because of the fear of police it generates in immigrant communities," Reed said.
She defended sanctuary policies for fostering a climate in which immigrants without legal status are more willing to report crimes and testify as witnesses.
"You do not want to be perceived as the deportation cops if you have immigrants in your community who you want to call you, contact you, call you when you're trying to do your policing," Reed said.
Rep. Stephanie Chang, a Detroit Democrat, called the new legislation a "step backward."
Kowall, however, countered: "I just can't for the life of me see ... how it benefits us not to pursue the illegals."
GOP legislators sponsored anti-sanctuary city bills in 2007 and 2009, but they died in the Democratic-led House. When Republicans took control of the Legislature in 2011, they declined to advance a measure backed by now-Republican National Committeeman Dave Agema to require police to verify the status of people they stop or detain.
Lawmakers say the issue, which is burning up conservative talk radio and TV shows, is pressing now.
"I ... have no time or patience for criminals, and I have even less tolerance for anyone who protects them," said Sen. Jack Brandenburg of Macomb County's Harrison County, who is drafting a bill.