Lawrence City Commission to discuss policies regarding undocumented immigrants

photo by: Mike Yoder

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

City leaders will soon discuss draft policies related to how police and other city departments interact with undocumented immigrants and federal immigration enforcement.

As part of its study session Tuesday, the Lawrence City Commission will review the draft of a document that would codify city policies and practices concerning undocumented immigrants. The commission, which previously expressed support for creating such policies, will not yet be voting on the policies but will be providing direction to staff regarding the document and what it would like it to include.

The topic is in front of the commission following a proposal from a local group, the Sanctuary Alliance. The alliance is proposing that Lawrence become a sanctuary city, which concerns how police handle noncriminal requests from federal immigration agents as well as preventing people from being discriminated against because of their immigration status. Last week, the city’s Human Relations Commission received the proposal and voted unanimously to adopt immigration status as part of the scope of its dealings in the future.

Regarding police interactions with undocumented immigrants, the draft policy that the City Commission will review states that the enforcement of federal immigration laws falls under federal jurisdiction and as such is outside the scope of duties of city employees, including Lawrence police officers. The draft policy goes on to say that the police department shall not enter into an agreement with the federal government — which can be done under Section 287(g) of the Immigration and Nationality Act — to enforce federal immigration law without the prior approval of the City Commission.

The draft policy does not specify under what circumstances police would provide backup to Immigration and Customs Enforcement; check someone’s immigration status; report an undocumented person to ICE; or whether police would arrest or detain someone based on the individual’s immigration status alone. Though the policy doesn’t currently address those questions, they are being reviewed as the city continues to draft the policy.

Assistant City Attorney Maria Garcia said in an email to the Journal-World that the police department is currently working on policies that would specifically address police interactions with immigrants, federal immigration officials and how officers would respond to an ICE request for backup. Garcia said the police department did not currently have policies on those topics and that the police chief would provide a status update on those draft policies at Tuesday’s meeting.

There are several provisions related to Lawrence Municipal Court. Those provisions state in part that the court shall not inquire about or report a person’s immigration status to federal immigration enforcement “except as otherwise required by law.” The only example of when the court would ask about a person’s immigration status included in the draft policy is upon the conviction of a class A or class B misdemeanor.

When asked for more specifics regarding when the law would require the recording or reporting of immigration status, Garcia said it was difficult to anticipate every scenario in which the Municipal Court would be required by law to report or transfer immigration status information to federal immigration officials. She said the phrase was included in the draft to be cognizant of a federal statute regarding information sharing, 8 USC 1373. The statue states in part that local or state governments may not prohibit or restrict any government entity or official from sending a person’s immigration status to federal immigration services.

Some of the other provisions currently included in the draft policy are listed below. The full draft policy is available on the city’s website.

• No employee or department shall collect immigration-related information in the provision of city services, including policing, unless otherwise required by law or policies.

• No employee shall discriminate on the basis of immigration status. City employees will serve all residents and city services will be accessible to all residents regardless of immigration status.

• Unless otherwise required by law, employees and departments that require individuals to provide identification shall accept any valid photo identification that provides the person’s name and photo.

• Employees and departments shall generally provide language services whenever possible so that foreign language and/or non-English speakers are able to access city services, regardless of a person’s primary language.

• Immigration status shall never be a factor when providing emergency medical or fire services.

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

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