The Lawrence City Commission should pass on requests to designate Lawrence a sanctuary city or some variation thereof.
Such a designation carries no meaningful bearing and doesn’t alter policies already in place.
The sanctuary city designation is expected to be discussed at the City Commission meeting tonight. The city has received numerous requests for it to consider the designation, most recently from students at Lawrence High School and the University of Kansas. Tonight, commissioners are expected to consider a proclamation designating the city a Welcoming City for immigrants. The proclamation states that the safety of all people should be protected, but does not use the term “sanctuary.”
If the proclamation sounds familiar, it’s because in August 2015, the City Commission adopted a Welcoming City proclamation that said the city is “committed to building a welcoming and neighborly atmosphere in our community, where all people, including recent immigrants, are welcome, accepted and integrated.”
The city hasn’t addressed why another proclamation is necessary.
President Donald Trump has made sanctuary cities an issue, both in his campaign and in the first few months of his presidency. He has issued an executive order that threatens to withhold federal funds from sanctuary communities that limit their cooperation with federal immigration agencies. Kansas Secretary of State Kris Kobach is pushing a bill in the state Legislature that would withhold state funds from sanctuary cities.
City staff determined that nearly $50 million in state and federal funding could be affected if Lawrence is identified as a sanctuary city. Neither Lawrence nor Douglas County has yet been labeled as such by state or federal agencies.
There is no legal definition of a sanctuary community, but, in general, Lawrence abides by policies that are characteristic of cities that have been designated as sanctuary cities. Lawrence law enforcement officers do not ask for someone’s immigration status unless there is a compelling reason to do so, and the Douglas County Jail does not honor 48-hour detainer holds from federal immigration agencies. Those policies would remain the same whether Lawrence is a Sanctuary City, Welcoming City or just a city.
Mayor Leslie Soden said while the financial ramifications are part of the sanctuary-designation decision, the city has an obligation to consider the issue.
“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.
While it may be reasonable to discuss the issue given its timeliness, it doesn’t make sense to approve a proclamation that essentially duplicates a proclamation adopted in 2015 and has no policy implications. At tonight’s meeting, commissioners should reiterate their commitment to existing policies, call attention to the 2015 proclamation and move on to more pressing matters.