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Lansing declares itself a 'Sanctuary City' in defiance of the Trump administration

steve carmody
Michigan Radio
Lansing Mayor Virg Bernero reads his executive order outlining now written rules for how city police officers should treat undocument immigrants

The city of Lansing is taking a stand against the Trump administration’s attack on “sanctuary cities.”

Tonight, the Lansing city council was scheduled to take up a resolution that advocates for undocumented immigrants complained was watered down and would do little to protect individuals who fear deportation by the Trump administration.

But by the end of the 3 hour special meeting, Councilwoman Jessica Yorko said the words that many in the audience had thought they would not hear.

“The Lansing city council declares the city of Lansing a Sanctuary City,” Yorko proposed as an amendment to the resolution.  The amendment, and ultimately the resolution, passed unanimously. 

The city council’s change of heart followed a surprise executive order issued late Monday afternoon by Lansing Mayor Virg Bernero.

Bernero’s detailed executive order spells out how Lansing police officers will treat suspected undocumented immigrants.   In short, just like anyone else.

Bernero’s executive order reads in part:

-Lansing Police Department personnel will not, independently or in assisting other law enforcement agencies, stop, pursue, interrogate, investigate, arrest or otherwise detain a person based solely on their immigration status or suspected violations of immigration law. -Lansing Police Department personnel are prohibited from soliciting information regarding immigration status from persons who are seeking police services or are the victims of, or witness to, a crime. -Individuals in the custody of the Lansing Police Department shall be subject to the same booking, processing, release, and transfer procedures, policies, and practices of the Department, regardless of actual or suspected citizenship or immigration status.

“I’m issuing this executive order to empower our officers and lay to rest any discrepancies and gray areas that our officers may face,” Bernero told the city council Monday night.

But the city itself may now be in a gray area.  

The executive order and council resolution tries to skirt around a federal immigration law the Trump administration is using against “sanctuary cities”.

Specifically, the Trump Administration cites Sec. 1373 of the Immigration and Nationality Act (INA).  The section bars state and local governments from prohibiting, or in any way restricting, any government entity or official from sharing immigration information with U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE).

Lansing city attorney Jim Smiertka has his doubts that the nuanced language in the city’s declaration will be enough to get around the Trump administration’s objections. 

“Whether that reference in the executive order is going to be understood by others, and whether or not that effects funding, that’s another issue,” says Smiertka, “because a lot of times people don’t read the resolution they just look at the words that are in them.”

Several groups have been pushing Lansing city officials to take a stand on sanctuary cities since the Trump administration announced it’s crackdown soon after the president was sworn into office.

Edilberto Montemayor is with the Michigan Latinx Info Cluster.  He says what matters next is how the mayor’s executive order is implemented.

"How are you going to train your employees?” asks Montemayor, “It’s irrelevant whether you are here legally or not for most of the work that any employee of the city of Lansing does.”

Steve Carmody has been a reporter for Michigan Public since 2005. Steve previously worked at public radio and television stations in Florida, Oklahoma and Kentucky, and also has extensive experience in commercial broadcasting.
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