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Iowa City City Council unsure about Sanctuary City

BY ASMAA ELKEURTI | SEPTEMBER 20, 2011 7:20 AM

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Iowa City city councilors were apprehensive about making any concrete decisions regarding proposals to create a safe haven in Iowa City for undocumented immigrants.

While most councilors agreed a secure environment for illegal immigrants was important, some were concerned the proposed ordinance would conflict with federal laws, officials said at a Monday work session.

"As community leaders, we have a responsibility to lead the people in our community," said City Councilor Regenia Bailey. "But we're not going to weigh in on federal immigration law."

The ordinance, proposed by the Human Rights Commission, sought to increase safety for undocumented immigrants in Iowa City. The nine proposals included increased communication among officials and immigrants, more representation in city government, and increased education on policies.

Over the summer, the commission worked with immigrant communities in Iowa City, conducting surveys to highlight concerns among minority groups.

According to these surveys, undocumented immigrants and their families lived in a state of chronic fear of detainment and deportation by local government officials. In light of this, many individuals are reluctant to approach city officials with any grievances, said Dianne Day, the chairwoman of the commission.

"In our hearts and our minds, we've heard of the injustices," said commission member Diane Finnerty. She said it is important these concerns are heard at a municipal level, and the panel members are willing to work with city officials to create a solution.

Mayor Matt Hayek said he is willing to work toward increased communication with local immigrant populations.

"It makes perfect sense to me why somebody would be reluctant to express a grievance," he said. "I think we can do more as a community to overcome those and build those bridges … if it's better outreach and soliciting and recruiting liaisons."

Other councilors said there is a need for more communication.

"There's misunderstanding and misperception on both sides," said Councilor Ross Wilburn.

The council has had past discussions regarding the legality of establishing Iowa City as a "Sanctuary City." The discussions have since been placed on hold due to fears of overstepping federal policies.

Councilors were also concerned about equal consideration of other federal laws.

"I worry that taking stands on certain national issues opens us up for criticism for not taking stand on other national issues," Hayek said.

The discussion was left without any decisive conclusions, and councilors agreed further discussion on the matter was needed.

"We'll take this internally to see what the Governor's Office and the city office think about this," Hayek said.


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