Sanctuary city status sought for Iowa City and Cedar Rapids

The goal is the same, but the motivation driving sanctuary city movements in Cedar Rapids and Iowa City is quite different.

“We want people to be able to participate in the community without fear,” said Karla Stoltzfus Detweiler, a Mennonite pastor involved in asking Iowa City to officially turn a blind eye to the illegal status of undocumented residents.

In Cedar Rapids, the movement is born out of class struggle, said Marlon Pierre-Antoine, a Haitian-American leading the sanctuary city movement there.

“The working class cannot win the struggle against the ruling class unless it is united,” said Pierre-Antoine, 20, an organizer for SocialistAction, which calls for a world without borders and immediate citizenship for all immigrants.

In both cities, the councils will be asked to adopt formal policies essentially creating a “don’t ask, don’t tell” policy toward illegal immigrants. Under the policy, employees, including police, are not to notify federal authorities of the presence of illegal immigrants. Such cities do not distinguish between legal residents and illegal immigrants for tax-funded services.

The Iowa City Council plans to discuss the topic at a work session in January, but those agendas aren’t set.

In Cedar Rapids, Pierre-Antoine plans to present a petition to the council in January.

He will be discussing sanctuary cities and asking people to sign his petition at a public meeting from 1:30 to 3 p.m. Dec. 18 at the Paul Engle Center, 1600 Fourth Ave. SE in Cedar Rapids.

In Iowa City, council member Regenia Bailey is concerned by reports of undocumented residents not reporting crime, even when they are the victims, for fear of deportation.

“My interest stems from conversations I’ve had about how domestic violence intersects with immigration status,” she said. “Can a victim go to the police?”

Cedar Rapids Police Chief Greg Graham doesn’t put much stock in that argument.

“It’s an easy thing for people to say without any proof,” Graham said. “Victims, if they call us, the last thing we do is harass them over their resident status. We’re here to protect people, not to ship people out of the country.”

His department has protocols for dealing with illegal residents, Graham said. Basically, “unless we have a legitimate reason to stop and ask someone for an ID, we don’t. It’s not a crime not to have an ID on you.”

Unless an immigrant is the perpetrator of a crime, there’s no good reason to ask about documentation, Stoltzfus Detweiler said.

The concerns of the sanctuary city movement go beyond crime, Stoltzfus Detweiler said. In the case of services, such as education and health clinics, “ethics dictate they should be rendered without regard to documentation.”

“It would be inhumane not to provide those services,” the First Mennonite Church pastor said. “The well-being of all members of the community is interconnected. When we’re all taken care of, we’re all better off.”

Mari Araujo, 17, worries that she could lose her educational opportunities. Araujo was born in the United States and has lived most of her life in Cedar Rapids. The daughter of El Salvadoran immigrants — her father is undocumented — Araujo is studying for her GED at Metro High School.

She’s concerned that governor-elect Terry Branstad’s get-tough policy toward illegal immigrants will make it difficult, if not impossible, to go to college. Branstad called for overturning a U.S. Supreme Court decision mandating states provide children of illegal immigrants access to public education.

Contrary to popular opinion, most illegal — or undocumented — immigrants are upstanding citizens, said Stoltzfus Detweiler and Pierre-Antoine.

“I’ve never met an undocumented immigrant without a job,” said Pierre-Antoine, who estimates 5 percent of the Cedar Rapids population is undocumented.

He’s familiar with the argument that illegal immigrants take jobs away from legal residents. He dismisses it.

“Immigrants are used as a threat to keep wages low,” he said. “Native born workers can’t wage an effective battle for wages and working conditions without being united with immigrant workers.”

Council member Chuck Wieneke said he could never support the plan.

“In my opinion, any time an elected body of officials would vote for a policy that calls for ignoring the law, government no longer exists,” he said. “People that disagree with a law need to work to get it changed, but until they do, it is the responsibility of citizenry to follow it.”

Mayor Ron Corbett said the city will “let the federal and state government handle illegal immigration.”

In Iowa City, Bailey doesn’t know what other council members think about the proposal, other than there is enough interest to put it on the agenda.“I think there is an interest in learning more about it from the legal standpoint and what the implications are,” she says.

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