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Local resources should not pursue federal immigration law

BY DI EDITORIAL BOARD | SEPTEMBER 14, 2011 7:20 AM

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If Iowa City doesn’t perceive illegal immigration as detrimental to its community, its taxpayers shouldn’t have to fund federal initiatives with its resources.

Later this month, a subcommittee of the Iowa City Human Rights Commission is to present city councilors with recommendations that would effectively designate Iowa City as an immigrant “sanctuary city.” This term may trigger alarm in some who think that the city will be forced to actively protect illegal immigrants from being arrested or deported, but that is not necessarily the case.

A sanctuary city is loosely defined as a city that doesn’t allocate funds to enforce federal immigration laws, though the term seems to implicate more than just that. If the city doesn’t wish to be call itself a “sanctuary city,” that’s understandable. But when the Human Rights Commission recommends barring city resources and personnel from enforcing federal immigration laws, city councilors should listen.

The perceived problem with such an ordinance, as Iowa City Mayor Matt Hayek said: “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.” The potential change in policy has been often thought to contradict a federal program the state is participating in, called Secure Communities.

If Iowa City implemented a common-sense and nondiscriminatory immigration program similar to that of Minneapolis, most, if not all, instances of identification and prosecution would be consistent with the Secure Communities program — not that it should matter.

Under Minneapolis’ program, “Employee Authority in Immigration Matters,” city employees are prohibited from using city resources “solely for the purpose of detecting or apprehending persons whose only violation of law is or may be being undocumented, being out of status, or illegally residing in the United States.”

Not only is this policy more than reasonable, it reflects those of the 14th Amendment of the Constitution: “… nor shall any state deprive any person of life, liberty, or property without due process of law; nor deny to any person within its jurisdiction the equal protection of the laws.”

Minnesota City Council President Barbara Johnson offered more practical reasoning for the city’s immigration policies.

“We want all our citizens to not be concerned about calling police for some of the issues that all of us experience,” she said. “We don’t want people to be afraid to call if there’s domestic abuse going on inside their house or if there are issues about child abuse. We don’t people to be fearful of calling the police when they need help.”

Johnson made it clear that Minneapolis was not to be considered a “sanctuary city.”

When asked if its immigration policies have conflicted with federal programs, she said, “We have a number of task forces with which our police participates with federal law enforcement. It certainly hasn’t been a problem.”

Johnson County was added to the U.S. Immigration and Custom Enforcement’s Secure Communities database in March. It automatically sends to the agency the fingerprints only of those charged or convicted of any serious crime — not dissimilar to the police checking for outstanding warrants of individuals they arrest.

Any persons the immigration agency wishes to pursue would likely be held by Johnson County, anyway, which means no extraneous, local resources would need to be used.

In the hypothetical scenario that Secure Communities did actually mandate that Iowa City resources be used to enforce immigration laws, it would be condemnable.

Different districts, on both the state and local level, prioritize issues differently. Residents of Arizona perceive marriage differently from New Yorkers; citizens of Des Moines prioritize agriculture differently from Iowa City residents. And, following the same line of logic, Iowa City perceives illegal immigration differently from the federal government — and Des Moines, for that matter.

If Iowa City doesn’t want to divert resources to federal initiatives it deems unnecessary, its resources shouldn’t be subject to federal mandates. Federal mandates should be carried out with federal funds.

Iowa City may not want to be considered a “sanctuary city” because of the negative connotations the term carries, but a lot of what the Human Rights Commission is recommending is commendable.


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