Councilors discuss legality of sanctuary city


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In their first discussion of a possible sanctuary city ordinance, Iowa City city councilors said they have some concerns about the legality and wording of such a policy.

During Monday night’s work session, councilors discussed the possibility of deeming Iowa City a sanctuary for immigrants when reporting crime.

Councilors voiced concerns about the wording of specifically the word “sanctuary.”

Councilor Susan Mims said she thinks there may be more harm done by misunderstanding the policy because the city does not provide amnesty from federal immigration laws.

“I don’t care how much explaining you do, I think there are going to be some serious misconceptions regarding the word ‘sanctuary,’ ” she said, and she doesn’t want the city to go down a path where the City Council is trying to fight the federal government in court.

Though Mayor Matt Hayek said something needs to be done at the federal level, city government policies may not make much of a difference.

“I fear that we would come up with a watered-down policy that would be riddled with caveats and exceptions,” he said.

Councilors discussed three options regarding Iowa City’s possible sanctuary: don’t ask, don’t tell, and don’t enforce.

A “don’t ask” policy limits the number of inquiries city officials can make regarding immigration status, “don’t tell” relieves city employees of the obligation to inform federal authorities of illegal immigrants, and “don’t enforce” means the city would not assist in implementing federal immigration laws.

Each of the three policies conflicts with federal laws, because the city can’t technically withhold information.

Councilor Ross Wilburn said he was concerned about losing federal funding as a result of approving such a policy.

Two years ago, when a similar policy was suggested in Des Moines, members of the Iowa Minutemen threatened to declare an economic boycott against the city.

“I believe that if Iowa City goes forth with that, it should have its federal funds cut off, plus the City Council or whoever makes the decision should be held civilly liable for any crimes committed by the illegal citizens,” said Robert Ussery, the state director of the Iowa Minutemen.

Though Iowa City Police Chief Sam Hargadine said the police do not routinely inquire into a victim’s immigration status, the policy could affect how they deal with such information in the future. But a policy would not affect county jurisdiction once criminals are transported to the county jail, Johnson County Sheriff Lonny Pulkrabek said.

The Iowa City Human Rights Commission voted in support of becoming a sanctuary city a few months ago, saying it protects basic rights.

“I’d like to think that people in Iowa City would like to know that their residents can live in Iowa City without fear,” said Dianne Day, the chairwoman of the Human Rights Commission.

But Ussery said he doesn’t think the policy protects rights, because all illegal immigrants are technically criminals. Also, he said the policy doesn’t protect them against mistreatment.

“Hiring illegals is akin to modern-day slavery,” Ussery said. “Because even if the sanctuary city [protects them at all], they’re victims of the employers.”

City councilors decided on Monday to meet with the Human Rights Commission to discuss ideas further before making any decisions.

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