Lawrence City Commission finalizes ordinance that provides protections for undocumented immigrants, requires notification of certain ICE activity

photo by: Nick Krug

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

City leaders have finalized a nondiscrimination ordinance regarding undocumented immigrants, including the addition of two provisions meant to create transparency regarding how police interact with those populations.

As part of its meeting Tuesday, the Lawrence City Commission voted unanimously to adopt the ordinance on second reading with two additions. The additions require public notification when the police department is aware of certain federal immigration activities in Lawrence as well as notification should the department make changes to its policy that generally limits police cooperation with federal immigration agents for noncriminal matters.

The city nondiscrimination ordinance and the police department cooperation policy were both pushed for by the local immigrant advocacy group Sanctuary Alliance, which began the conversation last year by calling for the city to adopt sanctuary city policies for undocumented immigrants. The group has been working with the city legal staff for about a year on the draft ordinance and the police policy, and commissioners, city attorneys and Sanctuary Alliance members have discussed the topic at length during several meetings.

“This has been a labor of love for so many people in our community,” Mayor Jennifer Ananda said after the ordinance was finalized Tuesday. “It has been a wonderful facilitation by our city attorney and certainly drafting this has been, I think, a real example of our community coming together.”

City Commission Meeting 09/15/20

However, it took another lengthy discussion Tuesday before the commission came to an agreement. The commission passed the ordinance with the additions proposed by the Sanctuary Alliance — though with some changes to the language of one provision — after about two hours of discussion. The discussion centered on the provision about public notification when the police department is aware of certain activities in Lawrence by Immigration and Customs Enforcement or other federal agencies working on immigration matters within the city.

Specifically, the alliance proposed a provision that would have required the police department to provide an immediate public alert of any communication of reported or planned civil immigration enforcement activity, which would not include criminal matters. City legal staff recommended against including the provision altogether, citing potential liability risks.

Assistant City Attorney Maria Garcia told the commission that such notification could open the city up to risk of legal action for violating laws against obstructing pending federal enforcement initiatives. However, Jordan Bickford, an organizer with the alliance, said that the risk was very low based on its review of relevant case law. Bickford said cases have involved an individual shielding a specific person from immigration action and that a general community notification about only civil immigration enforcement is not substantial enough to violate the law, but would avert the dangers residents face in ICE detention centers.

“I simply do not see the risk to the city as being as substantial or as important as the risk that we put our community at by allowing ourselves to do nothing,” Bickford said.

Ultimately, the commission voted to amend the alliance’s wording of the provision to account for concerns regarding legal risks. The commission voted unanimously to adopt the ordinance, but to change the public notification regarding civil immigration action from “immediate” to “as soon as possible without violating state or federal law.” The specifics of how the notification will work will be detailed in the police department’s administrative policy.

Related stories

July 21 — Lawrence City Commission approves protections for undocumented immigrants; additional discussion of ordinance upcoming

March 8 — Immigrants can be held in Douglas County Jail for noncriminal charges; county officials say they simply are following the law

Feb. 11 — Lawrence City Commission supports draft policy that would limit police’s cooperation with immigration agents

Nov. 12, 2019 — Lawrence City Commission continues to voice support for policies on undocumented immigrants

Nov. 4, 2019 — Lawrence Human Relations Commission to address immigration status as part of anti-discrimination efforts

Oct. 8, 2019 — Lawrence City Commission voices strong support for developing sanctuary city policies

July 12, 2019 — At rally, hundreds call on local leaders to make Lawrence a sanctuary city


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