Lawrence city commissioners approved changes to the city’s sanctuary ordinance on Tuesday, stripping it of some protections for immigrants, to fall in line with state law.
Under House Bill 2717 — which passed quickly in the Legislature this year, despite testimony overwhelmingly in opposition — local units of government are supposed to be unable to adopt any ordinance or policy that would interfere with law enforcement cooperation in immigration enforcement actions. Lawrence and Douglas County officials had voiced opposition to the bill.
The changes to the city’s ordinance remove language that barred law enforcement from inquiring about immigration status and from cooperating with Immigrations and Customs Enforcement (ICE) agents. The commission held off on approving the changes on June 14 to try to give local activists with Sanctuary Alliance more time to try to work with city staff to see if the changes were really needed.
Assistant city attorney Zach Fridell said the group’s immigration expert had agreed that language the city struck from its sanctuary ordinance should remain stricken. However, the ordinance does now reiterate that the city respects and observes the Fourth Amendment right to protect people from unreasonable searches and seizures.
“Those kinds of assurances were put in place that although we’re striking some prohibitions in the language of city code, we’re not, at the same time, creating any new requirements for documentation of immigration status of individuals,” Fridell told the commission.
Jordan Bickford, a Sanctuary Alliance member, encouraged commissioners not to take action after the state law was passed hastily in an attempt to strip protections from vulnerable people, “against our values and against the will of our community.”
“Recent history has shown and continues to show that the rights and protections we work decades to secure can be taken in a moment,” Bickford said. “Laws and governments can remove human protections, dismantle civil rights, and deny human dignity. Laws and governments are not infallible, and they deserve diligent scrutiny — and it is our responsibility to stand against them when we know that they are wrong.”
Mariel Ferreiro, a Sanctuary Alliance member who has spoken for the group throughout many commission meetings over the past few years, said that “This work is far from over and we will not stop after today. We will continue to find ways to protect the undocumented community from violence of the federal government now condoned by the state.”
“… Lawrence will always be welcoming because community members will always fight to be welcoming, regardless of how our representation decides to move,” Ferreiro said.
Other members of the public called for the commission to stand up against authoritarianism.
Ultimately, the revised ordinance passed 4-1 with Mayor Courtney Shipley voting against it, but it did not appear to be an easy decision for some.
Commissioner Amber Sellers said she’s not going to give up — but her read of the law was that the courts can enjoin the city or an individual. By not complying with the state law, she believed her position could get taken away from her.
“I’m committed to doing this work, and I’m committed to staying in this position to do that work. And by doing something different than (complying with the law), I may put that at risk,” she said.
She said she was going to continue to fight, no matter how she chose to vote on the ordinance.
Vice Mayor Lisa Larsen said through tears, “We worked on this for two years,” and recognized some Sanctuary Alliance members in the commission room who had been there throughout the discussions.
“There was a lot of compromise, a lot of discussion, very heartfelt, and I thought we really came up with a good ordinance. … And the state can come in and in one swoop, it’s gone. They can change it.”
She said she agreed with Sellers’ concern about the potential for actions against them individually. But “it does not change who we are,” she said, or the city’s goal to be a welcoming community.
“It would behoove us to go ahead and amend the ordinance to be under compliance under the state statute as it were,” Commissioner Bart Littlejohn said, “but I just wanted to reiterate that that doesn’t take away who we are and what we fight for and what we believe. And we will continue to do that.”
Commissioner Brad Finkeldei said the commission had been “put in a difficult situation,” and he agreed with the others that they would continue to fight to be a welcoming community.
Shipley quickly thanked Sanctuary Alliance members for continuing their fight, and she said the commission could do more to take advantage of its agency with federal and state representatives.
The revised ordinance is below.20220628-Sanc-ordinance
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Gov. Laura Kelly signed legislation Monday crafted by Republicans rebuking Wyandotte County for passing an ordinance allowing issuance of ID cards to undocumented residents and affirming the practice of local law enforcement agencies to not participate in federal immigration raids.
Mackenzie Clark (she/her), reporter/founder of The Lawrence Times, can be reached at mclark (at) lawrencekstimes (dot) com or 785-422-6363. Read more of her work for the Times here. Check out her staff bio here.