An overflow crowd of Latin-Americans from across Wisconsin stood outside the State Capitol hearing room where state lawmakers took testimony Thursday, on the latest attempt from Republicans to prohibit so-called "sanctuary cities."
That is a blanket term used to describe cities, counties or other local government entities with policies specifically designed to prevent its employees from inquiring about a person's immigration status, and from assisting federal immigration authorities with such inquiries.
Sen. Steve Nass (R-Whitewater) wrote the Senate Bill 275, which would prohibit such policies in Wisconsin.
"The bill also requires a political subdivision to comply with a lawful detainer that is issued by the United States Immigration and Customs Enforcement," said Sen. Nass.
If a local government failed to comply, it could face a loss in shared state revenue of $500 to $5,000, depending on the size of the community.
The bill's author warns those communities could also lose federal dollars, but Democrats dispute that.
"In April of this year, a federal judge said the federal government can't withhold federal monies from cities or counties because of sanctuary policies," said Sen. Bob Wirch (D-Kenosha).
Representatives for groups that advocate for immigrant rights said the bill closely mirrors a Texas proposal, which a federal judge has ruled to be unconstitutional.
The State of Texas has appealed that ruling.
"I'd like to add that, not only does SB 275 have numerous constitutional issues, but above and beyond, our analysis has shown that it's simply not in the public interest," said Darryl Morin, vice-president of the Midwest chapter of the League of United Latin American Citizens.
But Republicans and their supporters said the courts can decide whether it's constitutional, arguing it is in the public interest.
"Just because the regulation of immigration is a federal issue, (it) does not mean that state and local law enforcement agencies must overlook immigration violations that harm their communities," argued Susan Tully, national field director for Federation for American Immigration Reform (FAIR), which advocates for a reduction in the number of U.S. immigrants.
Sen. Nass tried to emphasize SB 275 does not require local law enforcement officers to act as immigration agents, or to go out in the community to find illegal immigrants.
"Senate Bill 275 is targeted specifically at individuals who have criminal convictions, and are already in custody of local law enforcement agencies," said Sen. Nass.
A vote on SB 275 has yet to be scheduled.
Gov. Scott Walker's Office refused to comment on the bill Thursday.