Lawrence City Commission to discuss policies regarding immigrants, request to make Lawrence a sanctuary city

photo by: Nick Krug

Lawrence City Hall, 6 E. Sixth St., is pictured on May 3, 2016.

The next time federal immigration agents come to Lawrence, city leaders say they want no surprises when it comes to the role of local police.

At its study session Tuesday, the Lawrence City Commission will discuss potential policies regarding how Lawrence police handle requests from Immigration and Customs Enforcement and otherwise interact with undocumented immigrants.

Mayor Lisa Larsen, who requested the study session, said that while police have a general practice, she thought a written policy regarding how police handle such situations would be more transparent for residents and allow the policy to be publicly debated.

“This way our residents can see what that is in a written policy, and they can comment on it and they can request that it either doesn’t go far enough or it goes too far,” Larsen said. “If they can’t read it and see it, then it’s hard for them to make any sort of informed judgment on it.”

The role of local police

Larsen requested the study session at the commission’s meeting July 16 so that commissioners can discuss creating a written policy and hear a proposal from a local group asking that Lawrence become a sanctuary city for immigrants. The commission subsequently voted 4-0, with Commissioner Leslie Soden absent, to place the issue on a future study session agenda.

Larsen’s request came on the heels of a local incident involving ICE and a subsequent rally where hundreds called on local leaders to make Lawrence a sanctuary city. On June 27, an ICE agent requested local backup when he saw a person walking down the street whom he believed had a warrant, according to a statement Police Chief Gregory Burns Jr. issued at the time. A Lawrence police officer responded to the scene to support the ICE agent, but the person did not actually have a warrant and no arrest was made.

The police department confirmed to the Journal-World that at this time it does not have a specific policy related to police interactions with undocumented immigrants and department cooperation with ICE. Sgt. Amy Rhoads said via email that anytime another law enforcement agency requests backup for a “criminal or safety matter,” a Lawrence police officer would be dispatched to assist.

“In every instance, Lawrence Police personnel treat all members of the public with the same level of respect and professionalism,” Rhoads said.

The Journal-World asked Rhoads whether the department would provide backup to ICE if the person ICE is pursuing is an undocumented immigrant suspected of no crimes, suspected of a misdemeanor or suspected of a felony. Rhoads said that generally an agency would not call the department for assistance unless a criminal element was involved. Rhoads said she had nothing further and did not provide responses regarding when Lawrence police would check someone’s immigration status; when police would report a person to ICE should they become aware that someone is an undocumented immigrant; or whether police would arrest or detain someone based solely on their immigration status.

Creating a sanctuary city

Larsen said she has met with members of the Sanctuary Alliance, an organizer of the rally, and that the group will present its proposed policies at Tuesday’s study session. The Sanctuary Alliance is proposing that the city create policies that restrict the Lawrence Police Department from cooperating with ICE and help ensure immigrants are not discriminated against.

Specifically, the alliance calls for a policy that prohibits local funds, personnel or facilities from being used for civil immigration enforcement, according to a proposal submitted to the city. That includes not complying with ICE requests to detain immigrants unless they come with a judicial warrant and not providing a person’s immigration status to the federal crime database where permissible by law.

Lawrence resident Mariel Ferreiro, an organizer with the Sanctuary Alliance, said recent interactions between local law enforcement and ICE have added to the overall sense of unease and discomfort among immigrant communities caused by national news. Ferreiro said there needs to be a clear line in the sand between federal immigration enforcement and local law enforcement.

“That is strictly civic law and that does not need to be interfering with the day-to-day business of the city and the police force,” Ferreiro said. “It’s just being very transparent that the funding that our citizens pay for in taxes is not going to be used to turn against community members to enforce immigration policies and procedures on the national level that we just don’t agree with and that don’t have the best interest of the community in mind.”

The proposal states sanctuary policies would distance Lawrence from unethical federal immigration policies that harm communities and families. The proposal notes various controversial immigration policies enacted under President Donald Trump’s administration, including family separation, lengthy detention of migrant children and changes to asylum policy.

The White House previously has indicated a desire to withhold federal funds from cities that have declared sanctuary status and has even suggested releasing immigrant detainees into the streets of such cities.

The proposal states that that not taking action on the proposal would diminish public trust and public safety. Ferreiro said a clear delineation between local police and immigration affects public safety because it encourages immigrants to report crimes and come forward as witnesses because they don’t have to fear repercussions for themselves or their family members.

The Sanctuary Alliance also proposes policies related to nondiscrimination and support services, including not collecting immigration-related information in the provision of city services unless required by law and not allowing ICE or Department of Homeland Security agents into local buildings such as City Hall, the municipal court and recreation centers. The Sanctuary Alliance’s full proposal is available on the city’s website.

The city has previously proclaimed itself a “welcoming city” for immigrants, and while Ferreiro said the ideas in the proclamation are great, they are not enforceable policy.

“We just need to see it in black-and-white writing so that we know it’s enforceable and we know that the community can start fostering that trust,” Ferreiro said.

More information

At Tuesday’s study session, city staff will present information concerning policies or practices related to immigrants from a number of city departments that provide services to the community, according to a city staff memo to the commission. The memo, which is from City Attorney Toni Wheeler, states that staff will provide an overview of applicable federal law and case law. Staff will also present information from research on measures or programs other communities have implemented to foster community inclusiveness.

Regarding whether she would support a policy that limits police cooperation and support of ICE, Larsen said she is interested in such a policy but that at this point she is still waiting to hear the legal review.

“I’m definitely interested in hearing about anything (the Sanctuary Alliance) wants to bring before us as to what they believe should be part of our policy,” Larsen said. “Because then we can take that information, along with information from everybody else who speaks, and our legal staff can make a determination as to what we can and can’t do and what’s prudent.”

The city presentation was not yet attached to the commission’s online meeting agenda as of Friday. City spokesman Porter Arneill said staff is refining the presentation and will post it to the agenda on Monday.

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


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