Committee: Make Iowa City immigrant sanctuary


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The Rev. Rudolph Juarez wants to provide a sense of security that many Iowa City residents take for granted.

Juarez is a member of the Sanctuary City Committee, an organization striving to provide basic needs to immigrants in Iowa City, regardless of legal status.

“We’re looking at people’s rights,” said Juarez, a pastor at St. Patrick’s Church, 4330 St. Patrick’s Drive.

Juarez and other committee members said they want Iowa City to adopt a sanctuary ordinance that would ban employers and, in some cases, police agencies from asking people about their legal status.

Immigrants would be able to report crimes or call authorities without fear of having to provide legal documentation, Juarez said.

“We want to make the Iowa City and Coralville area a welcoming community for all people regardless of status,” he said.

The first step is education and awareness, he said.

The Sanctuary City Committee plans to take that step in a public forum at 7 p.m. today in the Iowa City Public Library, 123 S. Linn St.

“This is our first sort of coming-out meeting,” said Sarah Swisher, a member of the Sanctuary City Committee.

Planning and organization of the committee began in early 2009, she said.

She noted that two of the largest illegal immigration raids in the United States occurred in Iowa — the 2006 Swift & Co. raid in Marshalltown and Postville’s Agriprocessors Inc. raid in 2008 — and raised the need for action.

There are more than 50 sanctuary cities in the United States, she said, including Chicago, Minneapolis, and Madison, Wis. There are none in Iowa.

The designation is often meant to show that the local government will not become actively involved with federal immigration matters.

Adding Iowa City to the list of sanctuary cities would not only give struggling immigrants security and potential for employment, it would also make the area a more enticing community, said Pastor Karla Stoltzfus Detweiler, also a member of the Sanctuary City Committee.

“We’re encouraging an attitude of welcome for all ethnicities and origins,” she said.

But Robert Ussery, director of the Des Moines chapter of the Minutemen Civil Defense Corps — an organization dedicated to seeing the U.S. borders secured against unlawful and unauthorized entry — opposes sanctuary cities.

“It’s a slap in the face to all hardworking immigrants who came here legally,” he said, and, in his opinion, sanctuary cities are a violation of federal law.

Ussery argued that cities taking sanctuary status will see such repercussions as boycotts at businesses or athletics events.

The Iowa City City Council will make a decision regarding a sanctuary ordinance. Members of the Iowa City Human Rights Commission believe Iowa City residents and officials need ample information before making a decision, said Dianne Day, the vice chairwoman of the commission.

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