Watson Park Rally

Attendees of a pro-immigration rally bring various signs supporting immigrants.

The Lawrence City Commission considered adopting a city-wide immigration sanctuary policy at a work session Tuesday, Feb. 11.

The ordinance prevents any city employee, including police officers, from collecting immigration-related information from Lawrence residents unless otherwise legally obligated. The new policy declares that immigration laws are within the federal jurisdiction, and fall outside of the “scope of duty” for Lawrence police.

The language in the draft prevents the Lawrence Police Department from entering into a Memorandum of Understanding with the federal government, a document that establishes a working relationship between federal and local agencies to enforce immigration law.

“Federal law allows local agencies to enforce federal immigration laws, provided there is an MOU,” Garcia said. “But this ordinance would say that the commission would have to approve such an MOU in advance.”

The policy was written with the help of the Lawrence Police Department, citizen activist group Sanctuary Alliance and the city attorney’s office. The policies drafted encompass the whole of Lawrence city government.

Assistant City Attorney Maria Garcia said the policies already in place at the police department prevent police from being involved in immigration-related enforcement. The police do cooperate with immigration enforcement when there is a direct threat to life or when asked to help in executing a criminal warrant, Garcia said.

Sanctuary Alliance has been meeting with the city attorney’s office and Lawrence Police to try and get more policies into the ordinance, including one that would require the Lawrence Police Department to release a public notice whenever a federal immigration office contacts it for any reason. Police Chief Gregory Burns said he couldn’t agree to that policy. 

“ICE does not work for me," Burns said. "I can’t mandate the procedures that they use.”

Burns said federal officers come and go, and are not obligated to inform local police of when or what they are doing. As written, the policy will require the police to inform the public after federal immigration officers have requested assistance and only after their operation is complete. Revealing the location or activity of federal immigration officers during an operation could put them at undue risk, he said.

Sanctuary Alliance Organizer Mariel Ferreiro encouraged the commission to approve the current ordinance as well as continue to develop more policies with help from her organization.

Ferreiro said the ordinance needs to go into detail about how violations of the policy by officers are to be handled and reported, and codify protection from retaliation for anyone that reports violations of the policy.

“We are very close to our goal of creating legal binding language that would not only protect the immigrant community, but allow members of Lawrence to feel safe and protected,” Ferreiro said.

At the meeting, members of Sanctuary Alliance took turns reading prepared documents dispelling immigration myths. Two Lawrence residents spoke against the ordinance.

Mayor Jennifer Ananda said that the collaboration between the Lawrence Police and Sanctuary Alliance is a productive model for enacting real change in the community. The commission will return to the ordinance in the coming months as the work between Sanctuary Alliance and the city progresses.

“The biggest part of the success of this was listening and hearing and engaging in dialogue, which is something we know that works, but is very easy to not do,” Ananda said.

—Edited by Brianna Wessling