Iowa City's actions protect public safety

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On Jan. 17, the City Council of Iowa City adopted a resolution reaffirming the public safety functions of local law enforcement. I want our fellow Iowans, especially those who live outside Iowa City, to understand what we did, and did not, do.

I find it important to do so because many Iowans (and non-Iowans) have written or phoned council members to condemn us for even preliminarily discussing the “Sanctuary City” concept and for subsequently considering a resolution reaffirming the public safety functions of local law enforcement.

By far the largest proportion of the objecting emails and phone calls were stimulated by “robocalls” coming from a Des Moines-based organization, “Priorities for Iowa, Inc.” The objectors, many of whom do not live in Iowa City or the State of Iowa, systematically repeated claims which are not true. And some of the objectors condemned us in very harsh and sometimes personally threatening language.

What did our council actually adopt? And how does it differ from what objectors claim we were doing?

For as long as city staff can remember, the Iowa City Police Department has not been involved in the enforcement of federal immigration law. In light of public concerns about the anti-immigration rhetoric expressed during the recent presidential campaign, we merely reaffirmed that the focus of our law enforcement efforts is on protecting the safety of our residents and visitors, and that — except as necessary for public safety or as otherwise required by state or federal law — the city’s law enforcement resources will not be used for immigration enforcement.

Put in less legal language, we affirmed that Iowa City is, and will continue to be, a safe and welcoming city for all its residents and visitors.

Objectors made several claims.

First, they claimed we would be designating Iowa City a “Sanctuary City.” No, we would not. We explicitly chose not to declare Iowa City a “Sanctuary City” because it is not a legal term and because its meaning varies from person to person and from city to city. But we are a safe and welcoming city, and, as we have always done, we will focus our law enforcement efforts on protecting the safety of all of our residents and visitors.

Second, objectors further claimed that we would be harboring dangerous criminals. No, we would not.

The claim presumes that undocumented residents are dangerous criminals. This claim ultimately rests on a belief that violent crime has been increasing in the U.S. as whole. It isn’t. In fact, according to FBI Uniform Crime Reports, the violent crime rate has plummeted dramatically since 1992.

Closer to home, there is no evidence that undocumented residents of Iowa City are dangerous. In the 5 years from 2011 through 2015 there were only 2 murders in Iowa City. There have been only 10 murders in the past 11 years, 5 of them in a mass murder by one person in 2008. Over that same time period we averaged roughly 4.6 violent crimes (murder, non-negligent manslaughter, forcible rape, robbery, and aggregated assault) annually for every 1,000 residents.

If our undocumented residents were dangerous criminals, would we not be seeing a tide of murders and other violent crimes? We are seeing nothing of the kind.

However, if undocumented residents fear they will be arrested by local police simply for being undocumented, they will avoid speaking with the police. If they avoid speaking with the police about being the victim of or a witness to a crime, all of our residents and visitors would be less safe. Maintaining good community-police relationships is a crucial part of ensuring public safety at the local level.

Third, objectors also claimed that we would be violating federal law and would be “aiding and abetting” dangerous criminals. No, we would not.

Our proposed resolution explicitly accounts for existing laws and court decisions. It states, “Except as necessary for public safety as determined by the Police Chief or designee, or as otherwise required by state or federal law, the Iowa City Police Department shall not undertake any law enforcement action for the purpose of detecting the presence of undocumented persons or devote any public resources to the enforcement of federal immigration law.”

The resolution also explicitly addresses what it does not do:

1. It does not “[I]n any way condone, encourage or assist” the violation of federal law which makes it a crime to knowingly “conceal, harbor or shield [aliens] from detection.” (8 U.S.C. Section 1324)

2. It does not “prohibit, or in any way restrict, any official or employee of the City of Iowa City from sending to or receiving from ICE [U. S. Immigrations and Customs Enforcement] information regarding the citizenship or immigration status, lawful or unlawful, of any individual”. (8 U.S.C. 1373)

3. It does not “affect or limit the enforcement of federal immigration law by federal authorities within the City of Iowa City.”

Fourth, objectors claimed that, if we approved the resolution, we would be following an undemocratic process. No, we would not.

The process we followed when considering the resolution was fully consistent with State law, Iowa City’s Home Rule Charter, Iowa City’s codes, and existing Court decisions. As is always the case, we provided time for residents to voice their agreement or disagreement with the proposed resolution both in writing and in person.

And fifth, objectors claimed we would be exposing Iowa City to a loss of federal and state funding. We do not believe we would be.

No federal law compels local police to participate in the enforcement of federal immigration law, and requiring the City to do so or conditioning federal funding on doing so would raise significant issues under the 10th Amendment and Spending Clause of the U.S. Constitution.

In brief, fellow Iowans, Iowa City is and will continue to be a safe and welcoming place for all its residents and visitors. Come down for a visit, look around, and you will see what I mean.

• Jim Throgmorton is mayor of Iowa City.

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