City Council passes ordinance protecting undocumented citizens

Monday, April 3, 2017 - 10:44pm

Following weeks of activism and pressure on the part of Ann Arbor residents, City Council passed an ordinance Monday evening intended to protect undocumented residents from federal involvement. 

The Solicitation of Immigrant Status ordinance, which prevents local police and city officials from asking residents about immigration status, passed with an 8-1 vote, with only Councilmember Jane Lumm (I­­­–Ward 2) opposing the ordinance.

The ordinance was originally crafted in response to President Donald Trump’s executive order, signed in January, that aimed to cut funding for jurisdictions that do not cooperate with federal agencies in identifying and detaining undocumented immigrants. The city was urged by residents over phone, email and in public hearings to support those in danger of deportation and to resist cooperation with federal agencies like the Immigration and Customs Enforcement agency.

“This ordinance isn’t perfect,” Jessica Prozinski, who is active in the organization Stop Trump Ann Arbor, said during the meeting. Prozinski was one of the supporters of the ordinance, and called on the city to do more as federal policies restrict undocumented individuals’ freedom.

“Our goal with this ordinance at this time is to give greater protection to the undocumented people in our community, to lessen the fear and to decrease the chances that people will be arrested for immigration related charges, detained and deported,” Prozinski said. “I think this ordinance does that.”

She went on to list other actions Stop Trump Ann Arbor wanted the city to take, including refusing to cooperate with federal agencies in arresting undocumented immigrants and refusing to arrest people based on administrative warrants.

A main point of concern for City Council in passing the ordinance was the risk of losing federal funding. As such, the ordinance currently does not explicitly defy any federal policy.

Lumm, who voted against it, stressed the importance of remaining in compliance with federal policy, and pushed for an amendment that explicitly called for compliance from employees of the city.

“I will not support something that places federal funding at risk and shifts the burden of paying for city priorities to local taxpayers,” Lumm said.

The council convened for a closed session to discuss the amendment, after which they deliberated publicly, eventually voting against it.

Councilmember Jack Eaton (D–Ward 4) argued the language from the amendment was vague, and made the work of city police and officials uncertain.

“This language actually creates uncertainty for our staff, as you’re telling them it’s not meant to cause a violation of a valid law,” Eaton said. “As they’re complying with the rest of the ordinance, they’re kind of weighing whether or not the current administration’s acts are valid or not valid, and I don’t want our staff to engage in speculation.”

Councilmember Chip Smith (D–Ward 5) echoed sentiments of several other councilmembers and constituents that this ordinance was the beginning of a resistance to federal policy that jeopardizes undocumented people.

“These are small steps, and they’re steps in the right direction, but I want everybody to keep thinking that just because we pass this doesn’t mean that we’re done,” Smith said. “We’ll need to continue to parry and counter bad ideas that come from Washington.”

The passing of the ordinance was followed by a standing ovation, with several constituents waving small American flags.