POLITICS
04/13/2017 06:16 pm ET

Michigan Capital Abruptly Scraps 'Sanctuary City' Label After Business Leaders Invoke Trump

Lansing lawmakers caved just nine days after voting unanimously for sanctuary status.

The capital of Michigan will no longer be a sanctuary city, after lawmakers held a special vote to undo the resolution they had passed unanimously last week.  

The Lansing City Council voted 5-2 on Wednesday night to remove the sanctuary city label, which signals support for immigrants, refugees and undocumented residents and indicates that local law enforcement will limit cooperation with U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement.  

They had voted 6-0 on April 3 to declare Lansing a sanctuary city, citing President Donald Trump’s executive orders targeting undocumented immigrants and “an increasingly hostile anti-immigrant and racist atmosphere [that] is being promoted by a vocal minority that represents neither American values nor the majority of our citizenry.”

The resolution also criticized state and federal government efforts to involve local law enforcement in immigration enforcement “because doing so would irreparably damage the trust between our police officers and our citizens.” Those sentiments were codified into official policy the same day, when Mayor Virg Bernero signed an executive order limiting police and city cooperation with ICE.

But after city and state business leaders wrote the council urging them to strip away the “sanctuary city” reference, lawmakers called a special meeting to take another vote.

The letter from the Lansing Regional Chamber and the Michigan Chamber of Congress warned that the sanctuary designation would make the city a “target.” Trump signed an executive order in January to strip funding from sanctuary cities, and his administration is escalating the pressure on jurisdictions that limit cooperation with federal immigration authorities.

“Recent actions of City Council, whether intended or not, have placed an unnecessary target on the City of Lansing while jeopardizing millions of dollars in federal funding that impacts the city budget,” the business organizations wrote.

Some local residents at Wednesday’s meeting also spoke against the sanctuary city policy.

Others condemned the council after the vote, calling members “spineless” for changing their minds.

Councilwoman Kathie Dunbar, who supports the sanctuary city designation, blasted those colleagues who voted to eliminate it.

“It’s a darn shame that after appearing to have a backbone and actually taking a stand on something that really matters, folks have decided to throw it away,” she said, according to MLive. “And the message that sends to folks is really sad.”

The city will continue to define itself as a “welcoming city” for immigrants and refugees, and the mayor’s new policies to protect those individuals still stand. Some councilmembers argued that Bernero’s order would prove more effective than the sanctuary designation in any case.

“The term ‘sanctuary’ in the resolution has become very problematic and distracting — so distracting in my opinion that it’s taken away from the intent of our resolution, which is to protect individuals,” Councilwoman Judi Brown Clarke said Wednesday, according to The Associated Press.

Although some sanctuary cities have come out fighting against Trump’s threats, at least one other jurisdiction, Florida’s Miami Dade County, has already bowed to the pressure and ordered local law enforcement to fully cooperate with ICE. Lawmakers in more than 30 states, including Michigan, have introduced legislation to block local sanctuary policies.

“Unfortunately, some states and cities have adopted policies designed to frustrate the enforcement of our immigration laws,” U.S. Attorney General Jeff Sessions said last month. “Such policies cannot continue. They make our nation less safe by putting dangerous criminals back on our streets.”

Advocates of sanctuary city policies believe they keep communities safer, by not diverting local law enforcement resources and by helping undocumented individuals feel comfortable cooperating with police. They also argue that Trump’s order to strip funding is unconstitutional and they’re fighting it in court.

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