Welcoming City / Sanctuary City

Welcome!And by frequently, I mean ever.

Mount Rainier is considering an ordinance that would establish policies intended to make our city welcoming to all, regardless of federal immigration status, race, gender, sexual orientation, gender identity, religion, or national or ethnic origin.

*What is a sanctuary city?

A sanctuary city is a municipality with an official policy of partial cooperation or non-cooperation with federal immigration law and its enforcement agents. The exact provisions of a sanctuary policy vary from city to city.

*Is a sanctuary city policy legal?

Yes. Local jurisdictions have no legal obligation to assist with civil immigration enforcement, which is the responsibility of the federal government. A local decision to offer resources to federal immigration enforcement authorities is completely voluntary – and in effect lends local law enforcement resources to a federal role and responsibility. In fact, there is precedent for local jurisdictions being held liable in civil court for complying with immigration detainers because they do not require a warrant or probable cause.

*Is Mount Rainier a sanctuary city?

Yes and no. Mount Rainier does not have a voter- or Council-approved policy regarding use of city resources for immigration enforcement. However, the Mount Rainier Police Department (MRPD) general order 935.00 establishes guidelines for MRPD personnel regarding immigration law enforcement. It could be interpreted as a sanctuary city policy. General order 935.00 does not apply to any city employees outside the police department.

*Why isn’t the MRPD policy good enough?

Unlike the current police department policy, this ordinance would prohibit city police from reporting people they arrest to federal immigration authorities. It also prohibits reporting people wanted only for civil immigration violations. It requires the police to accept ID cards issued by nonprofit groups such as CASA de Maryland and it expressly prohibits coercion, threats, and verbal abuse relating to immigration status.

A policy of this significance, carrying financial risk and reflecting community values, should be made by officials who are directly responsible to the public.

Also, the MRPD policy doesn’t apply to city employees outside of the police department, many of whom interact regularly with the public. It benefits the entire city when all our residents feel comfortable talking to code enforcement officers, the city clerk, and the city manager. It’s not reasonable to assume that an immigrant without legal status would feel comfortable contacting any government official, especially given the national immigration news.

*What are the benefits of a sanctuary city policy?

  1. It builds community by explicitly valuing residents equally without regard to immigration status. This framing facilitates bonds between neighbors and helps transcend cultural division.
  2. It builds trust between city employees and affected residents. It de-marginalizes a large segment of our residents by encouraging them to report crimes, file for permits, and raise their voices in the community.
  3. It closes a couple of loopholes in current MRPD policy.
  4. It conserves Mount Rainier’s resources and frees them for enforcing criminal law, picking up trash, paving roads, and developing our local economy.
  5. It would make city policy consistent across departments.
  6. It helps us avoid civil liability for violating the Constitution.
  7. It reduces the effects of implicit bias in law enforcement.

*Could the federal government cut funding to our city in retribution for passing a sanctuary city policy?

For political reasons Donald Trump has threatened to cut federal funding to jurisdictions ranging from municipalities to the State of California. The recent executive order is vague, but there’s a good chance our city already qualifies as a sanctuary city under MRPD general order 935.00.

Regardless, I don’t feel persuaded by Trump’s threats. I think they amount to blackmail. In addition, it’s not at all clear that federal retribution would be practical, legal, or enforceable. However, I am attaching a chart prepared by Mount Rainier’s finance director and city manager that shows federal funding to Mount Rainier since 2005. The financial risk should be and has been evaluated, but the risk to our community values is also important.

*Would a sanctuary city policy “put a target” on Mount Rainier and encourage federal agents to conduct raids here?

I don’t know what ICE will do. I would not be directly affected by an immigration dragnet. I’m not a DREAMer and neither is anyone in my immediate family. When this question came up early in the process I asked immigrant leaders and CASA de Maryland whether they were concerned about our residents becoming targets. They all feel that the benefits of a sanctuary city policy outweigh the potential down sides. I have substituted their judgement for mine on this issue because their expertise and their stakes in the issue far outstrip mine.

*Will the proposed ordinance prevent the MRPD from assisting immigration officers who are in physical danger?

No.

*Will the proposed ordinance allow criminals to go free?

No.

*Who else has enacted sanctuary city policies?

It depends on one’s definition, but here are a few: Washington, D.C., which receives over $1 billion a year in federal grants. Hyattsville, Takoma Park. New York City, Boston, Seattle, Los Angeles, San Francisco, Chicago, Cincinnati, Jersey City, Portland, Austin, Dallas, Houston. Prince George’s and Montgomery Counties also have some sanctuary policies.

*Where does the current sanctuary city proposal come from?

The original language came from Chicago’s ordinance. It was adapted by CASA for Maryland municipalities and also serves as the basis of Hyattsville’s ordinance. From there I made adaptations for Mount Rainier and submitted it to the city manager for legal analysis and formatting.

*What about public input? What happens next?

The City Council has considered the Welcoming City ordinance at four public meetings over two months so far. It will be on the agenda for a work session on March 21, and then it may come to a vote on April 4.

Outreach to the community on immigration topics included a December 12 listening meeting at Thomas Stone Elementary School that was planned by the Gateway Communities Organizing Committee and which I conducted in Spanish. Flyers were sent home with Mount Rainier and Thomas Stone Elementary students and turnout was great. The program included both public and anonymous questions to a panel including the mayor, the police chief, an immigration attorney, and a representative from CASA. The pastor of St. James also participated. The “know your rights” portion of the program especially confirmed my resolve to provide as much legal protection as possible for Mount Rainier immigrants and their families.

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