Lawrence City Commission to respond to requests to declare sanctuary city status

Lawrence City Hall, 6 E. Sixth St., Thursday, July 7, 2016

Following calls from students for Lawrence to declare itself a sanctuary community, the City Commission will decide at its meeting Tuesday exactly what kind of statement to make.

After reviewing the requests since December, city staff determined that nearly $50 million in state and federal funding is at stake and are recommending several steps, including proclaiming Lawrence as a “welcoming” city for immigrants. The draft proclamation states that the safety of all people should be protected, but does not use the term “sanctuary.”

As part of the meeting Tuesday, the commission will decide whether to adopt the proclamation, and if any revisions should be made. Mayor Leslie Soden said the financial implications are part of the decision.

“Declaring ourselves a sanctuary city has any number of ramifications that we need to bear in mind,” Soden said. “It’s not something that we want to do flippantly.”

The requests from the students of Lawrence High School and the University of Kansas came on the heels of the election of President Donald Trump. Following up on campaign promises, Trump issued an executive order to ramp up immigration enforcement. The order threatens to withhold federal funds from sanctuary communities that limit their cooperation with federal immigration agencies.

The one-page draft proclamation states, in part, that the city is “an inclusive community that thrives on the diversity of backgrounds that inhabit it, and that the safety of all people should be protected regardless of their background, race, religion, or country of origin.”

Soden said the discussion is one the City Commission needs to have.

“I feel very strongly that government should provide leadership in showing the values of our community, so I feel this is a topic that is appropriate for community discussion,” Soden said.

There is no legal definition of a sanctuary community, and thus far, neither Lawrence nor Douglas County has been labeled as such on any of the numerous lists that are kept. Local law enforcement agencies have previously told the Journal-World that they don’t ask for someone’s immigration status unless there is a compelling reason to do so, and they do not honor 48-hour detainer holds from federal immigration agencies.

A Journal-World review found those practices are similar to other jurisdictions that have been labeled by some as sanctuary communities. The order gives the secretary of homeland security the discretion to designate sanctuary jurisdictions and deem them ineligible to receive federal grants.

“With the new presidential administration, it seems to be very clear that tolerance of other cultures, religions and people of color is not quite celebrated the way that we feel they should be here in Lawrence,” Soden said.

There are also potential ramifications of making a sanctuary declaration on the state level. Last month, a bill was introduced in the Kansas Legislature that would authorize state police to enforce federal immigration laws. At the same time, another bill was introduced that closely mirrored parts of Trump’s executive order. The bill proposes to ban Kansas cities and counties from adopting sanctuary policies and threatens to withhold state grants from jurisdictions that do.

As part of the meeting, the commission will also receive a report by city attorneys that outlines how the city could be affected financially by the executive order and the state Legislature, should it pass. The city would jeopardize more than $42.7 million in funds remitted to the city by the state and $6.1 million in federal grants by declaring itself a sanctuary city, according to the report.

Along with the proclamation of Lawrence as a welcoming city are five other recommendations from staff of supportive actions the city can take. Those include authorizing staff to write letters of opposition to the pending state legislation and directing staff to work with KU to co-sponsor a community presentation on immigration law.

The City Commission will meet at 5:45 p.m. Tuesday at City Hall, 6 E. Sixth St.