Lawrence is on the path to becoming a sanctuary city after the city commission approved a nondiscrimination ordinance for undocumented immigrants at a meeting Tuesday.
The Lawrence City Commission unanimously approved an ordinance that codifies the city’s policies and practices concerning immigrants. The ordinance language prohibits the city from collecting information on immigration status or considering immigration status when providing services, among other protections.
These changes come after a group of community organizers, the Sanctuary Alliance, originally proposed the idea last year.
“We’ve seen an immense outpouring of support, and that just further proves our process is vital and that we do need this community interaction,” Sanctuary Alliance organizer Mariel Ferreiro said at the meeting.
In July 2019, hundreds of people gathered in Watson Park to call for Lawrence to be made a sanctuary city — meaning the city would limit its cooperation with federal immigration enforcement officers, among other protections for undocumented immigrants and underrepresented groups.
In addition to the work of local activists, community members submitted over 85 pages of public comments for Tuesday’s meeting in support of the ordinance.
Since then, Sanctuary Alliance has worked with city leaders on how to make the city safer for undocumented individuals.
Also in the last year, members of Student Senate at the University of Kansas have pushed for KU to become a sanctuary campus and Lawrence to become a sanctuary city.
Sanctuary Alliance spoke at the meeting Tuesday to ask that some changes be made to the ordinance proposed by city staff, especially related to transparency from the Lawrence Police Department.
One proposed change requests that LPD provide immediate public alert of activity by U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement or other federal officers in Lawrence, as well as public documentation of any contact between federal officers and LPD.
These reports would not need to include sensitive information, but would alert community members about ICE activity and increase transparency about how the police department responded, Ferreiro said at the meeting.
"It is the responsibility of those who serve the community to alert us when immediate danger is present," Ferreiro said. "ICE has shown us countless times, even within our own community, how dangerous they can be."
Community organizers also requested that the police department make a public announcement when any changes are made to their policies regarding interaction with undocumented individuals. These types of policies are typically made internally and not announced to the public.
The commission generally agreed with the goals of the ordinance, which focus on preventing discrimination, limiting cooperation on requests from federal immigration officers except when related to a criminal matter and preventing the city from gathering information on immigration status.
"Our community has clearly shown this as a priority," Mayor Jennifer Ananda said.
The commission passed the ordinance on first read, with the understanding that the wording on specific provisions, including those related to police transparency, would be revisited and discussed further at an upcoming meeting.
Sanctuary Alliance issued a statement after the meeting applauding the decision. The organization said they look forward to continuing to work with local officials to “achieve true, legally binding protections for our undocumented neighbors.”
“I am eternally grateful for the Lawrence community,” Ferreiro said in the statement. “They continued to show up and show solidarity. This is the first of many steps toward real community safety."