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‘Sanctuary City’ on hold

BY EMILY HOERNER | MARCH 11, 2011 7:20 AM

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Iowa City Mayor Matt Hayek said he’s skeptical about proposals to make Iowa City a “sanctuary” for undocumented immigrants reporting crimes. City Attorney Eleanor Dilkes presented councilors with information regarding the legality of the policy during last week’s work session, and discussion has continued.

“The punishment for ignoring federal law on the issue is losing access to the federal crime database, which would be a terrible idea for any law-enforcement association,” Hayek said.

But others in Iowa City remain hopeful such a policy can be developed, and the Iowa City Human Rights Commission is planning to meet March 15 to brainstorm its next move.

The Rev. Samuel Massey of First Presbyterian Church, 2701 Rochester Ave., said the Consultation of Religious Communities, a council of interfaith groups, originally started considering the issue of immigration in Iowa City.

After looking into what other cities had done on immigration, the group presented the sanctuary-city idea to the Human Rights Commission, which brought the idea to the city’s attention.



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When Dilkes presented the options, councilors decided to do more research before taking any action regarding an immigration policy.

“Hopefully, the City Council will do the right thing and move forward,” Massey said.

On Tuesday, Johnson County and five other Iowa counties joined an online fingerprinting database through the United States Immigration and Custom Enforcement’s Secure Communities system.

Hayek said the county’s involvement with the program won’t cause any added impediments to the possibility of a sanctuary city, because the city would have broken federal regulations either way.

“We have to be careful that anything we adopt, even if it is completely compliant with federal law,doesn’t make a promise to the immigrant population that we can’t keep,” Hayek said. “That would be worse than the status quo.”

Madison, Wis., has an ordinance similar to the ones being discussed in Iowa City. Madison is in Dane County, which also uses the Immigrating and Custom Enforcement system.

For now, the City Attorney’s Office said it will be receptive to the Human Rights Commission’s ideas.

The commission’s chairwoman, Dianne Day, said the group might talk about changing the proposed ordinance’s wording, work further with the sanctuary committee, or table the idea altogether.

“It’ll continue, fast or slow,” Day said. “The dialogue has begun.”

City Councilor Regenia Bailey said speaking with the Human Rights Commission on specifics about the ordinance is necessary. She thinks the city will eventually craft some sort of policy that respects federal laws, she said.

“I think that one of the things as an elected official of the community is that we have to respect the agreements and laws that are in place for us while we are being responsive to what the community wants,” Bailey said.

But even if some form of policy is implemented in the future, it doesn’t guarantee safety from being deported, said one immigration expert, Nestor Rodriguez, a professor at the University of Texas-Austin.

“Sanctuary cities are a misnomer; there is no such thing,” he said. “Federal officials can go anywhere in the United States and arrest people.”


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