By Vivian Le
After numerous calls from residents requesting that Iowa City be declared a sanctuary city, the Iowa City City Council will discuss the matter and other options at its Jan. 3 session.
The purpose of sanctuary-city status would be to indicate the city is safe for all people regardless of their immigration status. It would also ensure immigrants help from law enforcement without fear of deportation.
“The council considered sanctuary status in 2011 but declined to support a resolution then for fear that the move would conflict with federal law,” said Shams Ghoneim, the head of the city Human Rights Commission.
Cities that have declared sanctuary status have been under political scrutiny in a debate between local and state governments. Some states such as Georgia and Tennessee have gone as far as passing bills to prevent cities from becoming sanctuary cities.
These cities have also been under threat of funding cuts because of their status.
“It is also about undocumented immigrants not feeling comfortable coming forward to law enforcement over fears of being deported,” Ghoneim said. “It is about families and children and staying together. But once there is a clear and uniform federal immigration law, these issues would become clearer.”
Johnson County Supervisor Rod Sullivan said the county is committed to the same principles a sanctuary county might, but said he doesn’t see the benefit of a sanctuary label.
“… all I see is potential downfall,” he said. “If you call yourself that, and you make the list in D.C., it gives them somebody to target.
“All the things that we do to try to demonstrate to people that we are welcoming and inclusive … That’s not going to change. We didn’t need a label to do it in the first place, and we don’t really need a label to continue to do it.”
At a smaller scale, those in the University of Iowa community have discussed sanctuary spaces.
UI President Bruce Harreld joined other university presidents and signed a statement released by Pomona College in support of Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals.
This would protect undocumented citizens who entered the United States as minors to be immune from deportation and give them the chance to get work permits.
While Harreld said he supports the move and the idea of a campus free from hate crimes, like area leaders, he believes the sanctuary label is questionable.
“I have a concern about the word “sanctuary” because it’s not a legal term. It’s not defined in any law … It doesn’t supersede federal law,” he said during a discussion with The Daily Iowan. “We don’t establish the immigration policies. We don’t enforce them. We’re educators.”
DREAM Iowa President Fidel Estrada-Ayala said he believes the current political climate is not conducive to advocating for a sanctuary campus, possibly causing unwanted attention to current undocumented students from state politicians who may have negative views about immigrants.
“I believe that a sanctuary city would be a safer route to take, because it has more autonomy than the university,” he said. “[Iowa City] should take steps toward helping and protecting all of its citizens, including the undocumented population. These folks work hard and contribute to our society, just like everyone else, and they should be able to feel safe and live here where they call home.”