Lawrence City Commission supports draft policy that would limit police’s cooperation with immigration agents

photo by: Rochelle Valverde

Police Chief Gregory Burns Jr. addresses the City Commission at its meeting Feb. 11.

City leaders expressed support for a draft Lawrence Police Department policy that would limit police’s cooperation with federal immigration agents.

As part of its meeting Tuesday, the Lawrence City Commission provided input to city staff on the police draft policy, as well as a draft city ordinance regarding how city staff interacts with undocumented immigrants. Commissioners said they were generally satisfied with the police department’s plan and asked to continue discussing it at a future meeting.

Police Chief Gregory Burns Jr. told the commission that the department does not have the authority to enforce immigration law and that it can only assist with criminal matters. Burns said that under the draft policy, the police department would not really be doing anything different than what it has been doing, but that the policy puts those practices into writing.

“We are local law enforcement — we do not enforce federal law. We do not have the jurisdiction; we do not have the ability to do that,” Burns said. “That is nothing new.”

Commissioners said it was important for the city to put that in writing.

“I appreciated you saying that you were already doing a lot of this, but just the act of clarifying it for the public, I think, is really important for engagement and everyone knowing what their rights are,” Commissioner Courtney Shipley said.

The topic is in front of the commission following a proposal last year from a local group, the Sanctuary Alliance, which would like Lawrence to become a sanctuary city. More specifically, the group has proposed that police not enforce requests from federal immigration agents unless they are related to a criminal matter and that the city codify practices preventing people from being discriminated against because of their immigration status.

A common point of discussion regarding local law enforcement interactions with federal immigration agencies is whether local jurisdictions should detain someone based solely on their immigration status. That practice is known as an immigration detainer. The police department’s draft policy notes that the Douglas County Sheriff’s Office oversees the local jail, and therefore the jail does not fall under the authority of the department. However, the policy states that local police shall not assist in holding any individual based solely on a federal immigration detainer.

In addition to consulting state, federal and case law, city legal staff and police worked with members of the Sanctuary Alliance when drafting the policy. Mariel Ferreiro, a Sanctuary Alliance organizer, thanked the city for working with the group and asked that additional details be added to some sections as the city continues to work on the policy.

photo by: Rochelle Valverde

Mariel Ferreiro, a Sanctuary Alliance organizer, addresses the City Commission at its meeting Feb. 11.

Ferreiro said the policy would have positive effects for many marginalized community members and would help police make better use of their resources.

“Our goal as Sanctuary Alliance is to show that Lawrence truly is and can remain a welcoming city that values safety, compassion and inclusion for all of our community members,” Ferreiro said. “Our goal is to ensure that our community can be confident that we’re preserving local resources for local priorities and that we’re not putting our city at risk for legal liabilities over an unethical federal agenda that we have no obligation or authority to enforce.”

Other provisions of the draft policy state that police shall not stop, question, arrest or detain anyone based solely upon actual or suspected citizenship or immigration status. Police cannot act on noncriminal detainers and warrants alone and shall only detain, arrest or transport an individual if the person is wanted on a criminal warrant issued by a court or there is underlying probable cause for criminal charges. The draft policy states that police do not generally need to notify U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement about arrestees’ immigration status when booking them at the jail, but that contact with ICE could be feasible under certain circumstances, such as some felony investigations. The full draft policy is available on the city’s website.

As part of its meeting Tuesday, the commission also discussed a draft city ordinance regarding how city departments interact with undocumented immigrants. It includes provisions that would prevent the city from considering immigration status or collecting immigration-related information when providing city services. Commissioners also expressed their support for that ordinance.

City staffers said they will bring the ordinance back to the commission for a vote at a later date. Police department policies generally do not require commission approval, but the final draft of the policy will also come back to the commission for more discussion.

Related stories

Nov. 12 — Lawrence City Commission continues to voice support for policies on undocumented immigrants

Oct. 8 — Lawrence City Commission voices strong support for developing sanctuary city policies

City Commission Meeting 02/11/20

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