Lawrence City Commission to consider protections for undocumented immigrants, commission’s role in related police policies

photo by: Mike Yoder

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

The Lawrence City Commission will soon consider a nondiscrimination ordinance regarding undocumented immigrants and whether the commission should also have more oversight of police policies that affect those populations.

As part of its meeting Tuesday, the City Commission will consider adopting an ordinance codifying city policies and practices concerning immigrants. It includes provisions that would prevent the city from considering immigration status or collecting immigration-related information when providing city services, among other provisions.

In addition, a local immigrant advocacy group, the Sanctuary Alliance, is requesting that commission oversight be established over a police department administrative policy that generally limits police cooperation with federal immigration agents for noncriminal matters. Police department policies typically do not require commission approval, and establishing commission oversight would mean that changes could not be made to the policy without the commission’s knowledge.

The topic is in front of the commission following a proposal last year from 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. One of the group’s goals is for the city to establish practices that reduce the chance that someone will be detained or deported solely for immigration violations or misdemeanors, which in some cases could be minor traffic infractions. The group has met with city staff to provide feedback on both the city ordinance and the police policy.

The commission has discussed the topic at several meetings and expressed support for the draft police policy after reviewing it in February, as the Journal-World previously reported. At the time, some commissioners said they would expect that any changes to the policy be brought to the attention of the commission, but the commission did not determine whether that practice would be codified.

Following that meeting, city staff again met with representatives from the Sanctuary Alliance regarding the city ordinance and the police policy, according to a city staff memo to the commission. The alliance is requesting that either aspects of the police policy be incorporated into the city ordinance or that language be added to the ordinance that requires the City Commission to review any changes to the policy before they are made, according to the memo.

The memo states that establishing that review power over the police policy is the commission’s decision. City staff is recommending that the commission adopt the city ordinance as written and that commissioners provide additional direction if they find it appropriate. The full city ordinance and the police policy are available as part of the commission’s agenda materials on the city’s website, lawrenceks.org.

City ordinances and Lawrence police department policies do not have bearing on the Douglas County Sheriff’s Office, which operates the local jail. A review by the Journal-World in March found the jail follows a system — which uses fingerprint files that are sent to federal immigration officials — that can result in immigrants being held in the jail for up to two days, even after their local cases have been resolved. The hold gives federal immigration officials time to take the person into custody. Sanctuary Alliance organizer Mariel Ferreiro told the Journal-World in March that the push to create local cooperation policies was sparked in part by local law enforcement assisting with ICE warrants. Ferreiro said the group decided to start at the city level but plans to continue the conversation at the county level once the city policies are adopted.

The City Commission will convene virtually at 5:45 p.m. Tuesday, with limited staff members in place at City Hall, 6 E. Sixth St. The city has asked that residents participate in the meeting virtually, if they are able to do so, using temporary meeting procedures put in place to prevent the spread of the coronavirus. Directions for submitting public comment and correspondence are included in the meeting agenda that is available on the city’s website.

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