Lawrence City Commission to consider additions to ordinance that provides protections for undocumented immigrants

photo by: Rochelle Valverde

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

City leaders will soon discuss additional provisions of a nondiscrimination ordinance meant to create transparency regarding how the police interact with undocumented immigrants.

As part of its meeting Tuesday, the Lawrence City Commission will consider adopting the ordinance on second reading following some changes the commission directed city staff to make in July. At that time, the commission approved the ordinance on first reading but requested that city staff draft language to incorporate one addition and further review another. Both additions were requested by the local immigrant advocacy group Sanctuary Alliance, which began the conversation last year by calling for the city to adopt sanctuary policies for undocumented immigrants.

City legal staff is only recommending one of the additions, according to a memo to the commission. Said addition is a provision that would require the Lawrence Police Department to provide public notice of any revisions to the department’s policy regarding interactions with undocumented immigrants, or any other policy changes that affect that population, and that the department make those revisions publicly available. The policy, also pushed for by the Sanctuary Alliance, generally limits police cooperation with federal immigration agents for noncriminal matters. Police department policies typically do not require commission approval or public notification for changes to be made.

City legal staff is not recommending the commission add a provision that has to do with public notification of federal immigration activities. The Sanctuary Alliance called for a provision that requires the police department to provide an immediate public alert of any communication of reported or planned civil immigration activity by Immigration and Customs Enforcement or other federal agencies working on immigration matters within the city. Police department officials have previously told the commission that ICE is not required to notify the department when it is taking such actions and often does not, so such a provision could be problematic. City legal staff state the reason for rejecting the “immediate public alert” language is out of concern for potentially obstructing pending federal enforcement initiatives; however, they suggest some reporting could be done after the fact.

The draft ordinance now includes a provision requiring the police department to provide a publicly available report with 48 hours after the resolution or completion of any communication or activity regarding civil immigration conducted by ICE or other federal agencies. The memo states such after-the-fact reporting occurs in at least one other city. New York City requires a report to be submitted quarterly to its city council with a summary of requests for support or assistance in furthering immigration enforcement and any actions taken by its employees in response to those requests.

Sanctuary Alliance organizer Mariel Ferreiro has previously told the Journal-World that the push to create local cooperation policies was sparked in part by local law enforcement assisting with ICE warrants. In one case last July, an ICE agent requested backup from Lawrence police when the agent was attempting to detain a pedestrian who the agent thought had a warrant but actually did not, according to a news release from police at the time. Following that incident, the group led a rally in Watson Park attended by hundreds of community members to kickstart the movement calling on city officials to make Lawrence a sanctuary city, as the Journal-World reported at the time.

One of the alliance’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 does not advocate for preventing the detainment of undocumented immigrants for criminal matters. The group has met with city staff over the last year to provide feedback on both the city ordinance and the police policy.

National ICE data indicates that at least 20,000 of those people ICE arrested in 2019 were arrested based solely on unlawful status in the U.S. and had no known criminal convictions or pending charges. As the Journal-World reported earlier this year, the Douglas County Jail follows a system that can result in undocumented immigrants being held in the jail for up to two days, even after their local cases have been resolved, giving federal immigration officials time to take the person into custody. City ordinances and Lawrence police department policies do not have bearing on the Douglas County Sheriff’s Office, which operates the local jail, but Ferreiro has said the group 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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