Lawrence City Commission continues to voice support for policies on undocumented immigrants

But some residents speak out against proposals

photo by: City of Lawrence

Lawrence city commissioners are pictured at a work session Tuesday, Nov. 12, 2019, at City Hall.

City leaders on Tuesday affirmed their desire to continue drafting policies related to how police and other city departments interact with undocumented immigrants and federal immigration authorities.

As part of its study session Tuesday, the Lawrence City Commission reviewed the draft of a document that would codify city policies and practices concerning undocumented immigrants. The topic is in front of the commission following a proposal from a local group, the Sanctuary Alliance, which would like Lawrence to become a sanctuary city.

About 20 people spoke to the commission about the proposal, with six people voicing opposition to the idea. Some of those residents voiced concerns about undocumented immigrants taking away from local resources; straining schools; spreading disease and endangering the community. However, studies have found that higher percentages of undocumented immigrants in a community do not correlate with increased violent crime rates and one study found that immigrants were less likely to be convicted of a crime than native-born residents.

Vice Mayor Jennifer Ananda said the policies address people in the community who are already here and already contributing to the community. Ananda said she appreciated that the commission was continuing to address the Sanctuary Alliance’s recommendations, adding that she would be remiss if she did not respond to some of the negative comments made. Ananda, who was formerly an immigration attorney, said when she was practicing she worked with an undocumented immigrant from Canada who was living in central Kansas, and that person never had any issues.

“So we have to acknowledge the racial component of this issue — that unless we are American Indian or we were imported as a commodity to this country, we are all illegally here and have taken over a land that was not given to us,” Ananda said.

The Sanctuary Alliance is proposing that Lawrence become a sanctuary city, which concerns nondiscrimination and how police handle noncriminal requests from federal immigration agents. Some of the goals of the group are to ensure that undocumented immigrants have equal access to city services and do not fear going to the police when they have been a victim or witness of a crime.

Commissioner Matthew Herbert also addressed the negative comments, saying that he did not think it was the commission’s job to legislate out of fear, hatred, misconceptions or propaganda. He said he thinks the draft policies further the goal of community trust.

“I think our job is to legislate to take care of our neighbors, and I think that’s what we’re doing and I think that’s what staff knows to do, and it appears those are the steps that we’re taking,” Herbert said. “An essential part of policing, which has been a key topic we’ve had tonight, is establishing, protecting, preserving and furthering community trust.”

Commissioners Stuart Boley and Leslie Soden both spoke to the importance of all Lawrence residents, including undocumented immigrants, being able to go to police and fire and medical staff when they need help.

Some of those speaking in opposition to the policies also voiced concern about allowing the police department to “ignore” criminals and federal laws. Mayor Lisa Larsen emphasized that the draft policies don’t advocate breaking the law and in fact follow the rule of law.

Prior to public comment and the commission discussion, Lawrence Police Chief Gregory Burns Jr. outlined the department’s ongoing efforts, as part of the overall process to draft the policies, to codify its practices in regards to undocumented immigrants and interactions with federal immigration.

Burns said the Douglas County Sheriff’s Office oversees the local jail, but that immigration is a federal matter and local police don’t have the authority to enforce immigration laws. He said police would not assist in holding anyone solely on a federal immigration detainer. He said under certain felony investigations it’s possible the police department would notify federal immigration if the person in question is an undocumented immigrant. Burns said the department would continue to research and draft its policies.

The City Commission will consider the policies as part of a future meeting.

City Commission Work Session 11/12/19


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