The possibility of Lansing becoming a sanctuary city continues to create controversy within the community. The definition of a sanctuary city varies based on what each individual city declares. However, the general intention is to protect immigrants and refugees. The conflict has been most prominent in the community in recent months, but an original draft was proposed over a year ago.
Concerned individuals have been in attendance at City Council meetings vocalizing support. “We are doing it,” Director of Operations at Action of Greater Lansing Oscar Castaneda said. “Everything that is happening is because of us. We wrote the draft.”
Action of Greater Lansing is not alone when it comes to supporting the city changing its status. Other organizations have also intervened.
“It’s a communal support thing,” member of Lansing’s branch of By Any Means Necessary (BAMN) Seth Kalis said. “It puts that law on the books so that it can not be taken back if the political climate changes or if just the people in charge of the city or the police force in Lansing changed.”
Lansing City Council Member Judi Brown Clarke says the council has also received hundreds of emails and phone calls pertaining to a sanctuary city.
But whether the city assumes sanctuary status depends on the City Council, which will be taking into account numerous conditions when deciding on whether the city will become sanctuary. The City Council was scheduled to vote on the sanctuary city matter at its meeting Feb. 13 but the topic was pulled from the agenda. Groups such as Black Lives Matter of Lansing and BAMN were in attendance.
One focus among the council is that sanctuary cities may lose federal funding as threatened by President Donald Trump’s executive order.
“There would be approximately a $6 million reduction in our operational costs which we can not afford as a city,” Clarke said. “One of the concerns that people have is we are already limited in the money we can generate in our basic needs in getting public services. So, you take $6 million out of that and we’re going to have an impact.”
Clarke also emphasized that the funding saves lives and the council has to consider where they would be without it. She said the majority of the funding would be cut from safety services such as fire and police.
“Part of that $6 million also goes to some of our social services and human services and things that are actually protecting the lives of our citizens,” Clarke said. “The challenge is you have got to protect all the lives. You can’t just focus on one particular population and not look at the balance of the population. Its not just that we can’t afford to lose $6 million, its that the $6 million is part of our public safety and public services which are saving lives.”
Beyond just budgetary concerns, some citizens have fear the status of a sanctuary city will create a threat. Clarke summarized the concerns that she has received and says many fear there isn’t a safeguard or that there will be an influx of individuals that are a threat to the common safety.
Lansing resident Chelsea Bridson is encouraging citizens to contact the council.
“I have just been overall trying to get people interested in local politics and going to City Council meetings and stuff like that because I think that if we want to change policies and make a difference in policies, we need to start from sort of grassroots movement,” Bridson said.
Bridson says one policy that supporters want to implement would prevent local police from asking citizens about their immigration status.
“It kind of just says, you know, local police are not going to be involved in this,” Bridson said. “If federal police or whoever wants to come and make a big stink about it then that’s their prerogative but locally we aren’t going to do that.”
Director of Michigan State University’s Muslim Studies Program and expert on religious diversity Mohammad Khalil said majority of fears about inclusion come from lacking interactions with other ethnicities.
“I think the best thing one can do is set up interactions,” Khalil said. “Set up a visit to the local mosque for example, or synagogue or whatever house of worship and try to facilitate interactions because I think that’s the easily the most successful thing, most effective thing one can do. You can preach and talk and educate all day long but its those actual interactions that I think go a long way.”
One group’s concern for public safety lead them to the City Council meeting on Feb. 13. Fearful that groups of sanctuary city protestors would created a disturbance, Genesee County Volunteer Militia divided up in front of city hall and throughout downtown to support police. Almost all volunteers all were dressed in camo and armed with rifles.
“I’m here to just make sure that peace remains in the city of Lansing through the night,” information officer for Genesee County Volunteer Militia Matt Krol said. “There are about two dozen of us here.”
The council is currently waiting to vote on the issue. The next council meeting is Feb. 27.