Michigan’s first ‘sanctuary city’ sparks anger, praise

Michael Gerstein
The Detroit News

Lansing — Lansing is being praised and reprimanded after it became Michigan’s first and only city to designate itself as a “sanctuary city” for undocumented immigrants.

On Monday night, the Lansing City Council unanimously approved a three-page resolution that included the sanctuary city designation, but the council didn’t precisely define the term. The declaration signals opposition from the council and Lansing Mayor Virg Bernero to comply with the spirit behind President Donald Trump’s more aggressive immigration enforcement.

Legal experts opposed to the Trump administration’s immigration enforcement policies say there isn’t a clear definition of “sanctuary city,” but they laud Lansing’s adoption of the resolution.

“We were very heartened to see Lansing take such significant action to be welcoming and supportive of their immigrant residents,” said Susan Reed, managing attorney for the Michigan Immigrant Rights Center.

At least three Michigan Republican congressmen denounced the measure as irresponsible, warning it could put millions of dollars in federal aid at risk for the city. Prior to the vote, the Center for Immigration Studies indicated that Michigan had no sanctuary cities.

The resolution reaffirmed the city’s status as a “welcoming city” to immigrants and refugees and then added the sanctuary status. It means the city directs its police and staff not to ask about anyone’s immigration status unless otherwise required to by federal or state law, or by a court order.

The move is “completely reckless,” could jeopardize federal aid and “sends a dangerous message that local governments or individuals can simply pick and choose which laws they wish to follow,” said U.S. Rep. Mike Bishop, a Rochester Republican whose district encompasses Lansing, said in a statement.

“Not only have they completely ignored the input and safety of legal residents and families in Lansing, but they have disregarded every immigrant who has followed the law by coming into our country the legal way.”

In January, President Donald Trump signed an executive directive ordering Department of Homeland Security Secretary John Kelly to decide which communities are “sanctuary cities” that don’t cooperate with federal agents in turning over illegal immigrants for deportation and reduce the federal aid — except for funding designated for law enforcement.

In recent weeks, city council meetings have been flooded with pro-immigrant activists from Lansing urging the council to adopt the measure.

Bernero said Wednesday the resolution and an executive order he signed Monday outlining the city’s policing priorities only puts in writing what Lansing has practiced for years.

The city’s legal team is also considering joining or beginning a new lawsuit against the Trump administration over the president’s immigration executive order on immigration, which authorizes more aggressive enforcement of the nation’s immigration laws, the Democratic mayor said.

“I see it as signaling opposition to his approach, to his demeanor, to … the hateful and, as I said, nationalistic, jingoistic approach that we see coming out of Washington,” he said, adding that the policies of Trump and Attorney General Jeff Sessions are “highly questionable legally and constitutionally, and we’re not gonna just sit back and take it.”

Bishop said it’s unclear what the actual ramifications of the new resolution will be. But he and U.S. Reps. Paul Mitchell, R-Dryden, and Jack Bergman, R-Watersmeet, all say Lansing is positioning itself against the law.

“The Lansing City Council’s action completely disregards the rule of law, disparages those who came to this country legally and puts Lansing’s ability to receive federal funding at risk,” Mitchell said in a statement. “The city should reconsider its decision.”

Bergman also said it “actively undermines enforcement of our federal laws and shows a complete lack of regard for national sovereignty.

“Our country has always welcomed immigrants with open arms, and we will continue to welcome every person who immigrates to this country using the appropriate legal avenues,” he said. “This decision flies in the face of our immigration policies and proves that the Lansing City Council values political activism more than it values the safety and well-being of Michigan families and communities and legal immigrants.”

The resolution affirmed an executive order Bernero issued Monday directing police and staff to “not ask about, nor record information on any person’s immigration status” unless legally required to do so. It also states that Lansing staff and police will not stop or detain people based solely on immigration status.

Rana Elmir, deputy director of the American Civil Liberties Union of Michigan, said federal law doesn’t require states to help Immigration and Customs Enforcement officers to enforce immigration laws.

“Furthermore, the Trump administration does not have the legal authority to carry out this threat to defund cities and states that protect people’s rights without regard to immigration status,” Elmir said.

Ann Arbor approved a similar resolution on Monday directing police not to collect information on immigration status but didn’t include the term “sanctuary city.” Ann Arbor City Council member Jack Eaton said the measure is meant to withhold as much information from immigration officials as possible, but is worded to not violate federal law.

“So if the Trump administration understands this correctly, then yes we are pushing back against their attempts to be intolerant, I guess I would say,” Eaton said.