Council rescinds sanctuary city declaration. Now what?

LANISNG, MICH. - City Council changed course Wednesday night and voted to rescind a controversial declaration for Lansing that's created division over the past week and a half.

With a 5-2 vote, council decided to no longer have the city be declared a sanctuary city for refugees and immigrants, including those who may be undocumented. The declaration was initially part of a resolution council passed April 3 with a 6-0 vote.

The city still follows guidelines pertaining to the treatment of refugees and immigrants set forth by Mayor Virg Bernero in an executive order he made on April 3. Bernero's order emphasizes written standards the Police Department must follow when officers and staff members interact with immigrants and refugees. The order doesn't include any references to Lansing as a sanctuary city.

However, At-Large Council Member Kathie Dunbar said Bernero's order does give Lansing sanctuary city status. Dunbar said she's disappointed the majority of her peers didn't feel the same way. She argued in Wednesday's meeting that a council's sanctuary city declaration it passed last week didn't put the city in danger.

"There's nothing that we've done that breaks the law," Dunbar said. 2nd Ward Council Member Tina Houghton, also up for reelection, was the second vote to keep the sanctuary city declaration.

The term "sanctuary city" is controversial because critics have often claimed it's code word for disobeying or flat out ignoring federal immigration laws.


About 25 people, including several who support President Donald Trump, showed opposition in the meeting to the declaration and Bernero's order. Several who opposed the declaration stated they were concerned that Trump's administration could revoke federal funding from the city if elected officials give it reasons to with written policies.

The city receives about $6.5 million annually.

Before council's vote on Wednesday, 74 people spoke at the meeting to share their opinions about the sanctuary city declaration in council's resolution.

Of that group, 49 said they were for keeping the sanctuary city declaration in council's resolution. This resolution originally described Lansing as a "welcoming city" for all. Since the sanctuary declaration was rescinded, the council's decision reaffirmed the welcoming city status as a resolution.

At-Large Council Member Judi Brown Clarke, who is running for mayor this year, made the motion to rescind the sanctuary declaration. After nearly an hour of discussion at council's dais, Clarke then said it was time to move on with other city business. After Clarke voted last week for the sanctuary city declaration, she said her vote reaffirmed Lansing as a welcoming city.

1st Ward Council Member Jody Washington, who wasn't present at last week's meeting for the vote, said Wednesday she also was ready to focus on other city business. She along with Council President Patricia Spitzley, At-Large Council Member Carol Wood and 3rd Ward Council Member Adam Hussain all voted to rescind the declaration.

And each supported Lansing as "a welcoming city" for all.

"I don't care if we're a sanctuary city or not," Washington said. "That's Mayor Bernero's call."

Bernero didn't attend Wednesday's meeting. On Friday, Bernero told the Lansing State Journal he didn't feel the need to advise the council to change or rescind its resolution because he believes members have a right to make a statement. The consensus among council members is that Bernero's order supersedes any resolution council can make.

4th Ward Council Member Jessica Yorko didn't attend Wednesday's meeting. Council members said she had an excused absence.

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Lansing State Journal


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