LAWRENCE — An ordinance passed this week by the Roeland Park City Council places limits on how much city officials can cooperate with federal immigration enforcement and prohibits discrimination based on an individual’s immigration status.
The ordinance says city officials aren’t obligated to use any funds or resources to help federal immigration agencies, such as the U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement, or to share information regarding an individual’s immigration status. It also says the Roeland Park Police Department shouldn’t provide support to ICE for immigration enforcement, unless there is a “specific threat to public safety or crime in progress.”
Roeland Park appears to be the second city in Kansas to embrace an ordinance like this. The American Civil Liberties Union of Kansas has encouraged city and county governments statewide to adopt similar policies to build trust among immigrant community members.
Under the ordinance passed Monday, police are also required to alert Roeland Park residents of any planned activity by federal immigration enforcement agencies within 48 hours, except in cases where a crime is occurring.
Roeland Park residents have been advocating for these protections for the past year. They formed a coalition, named Safe & Welcoming Roeland Park, after an attempt was made to pass a similar ordinance in 2019. That ordinance failed to pass in part because there wasn’t a lot of organization among residents, said Stephanie Iser, a leader with Safe & Welcoming Roeland Park.
The group drafted a proposal in coordination with attorneys, local immigrants, advocacy groups and residents, Iser said. City council members later chose elements of the proposal to incorporate in the ordinance.
“Throughout the process, we just really wanted to get what was best for immigrants in our community in place, and try to center immigrants and undocumented people in the process to make sure what we asked for would be good for them,” Iser said.
Community organizers received roughly 200 signatures in support of the Roeland Park ordinance, officially named the Protecting Public Safety and Community Resources Act. Among those who signed and wrote testimony in support were Kansas lawmakers Rep. Rui Xu and Rep. Susan Ruiz, both Democrats.
“With the tough decisions looming as a result of COVID-19, local resources are even tighter and scarcer than they were before, and I think any amount that goes specifically towards federal immigrant enforcement could be better spent elsewhere,” Xu wrote to Roeland Park council members.
Members of the Roeland Park City Council passed the ordinance unanimously. Mayor Mike Kelly said its passage will help build trust between community members and local law enforcement.
“I think that it’s important that we emphasize the feeling of community in Roeland Park,” Kelly said. “And if we can make it more of a community of trust, and promote members of our community coming forward and working with the police department — whether they be a victim or a witness of a crime or otherwise need community services — that’s a good thing.”
The ACLU of Kansas previously launched a campaign that advocates for protections for undocumented immigrants, called Safe & Welcoming Kansas. The campaign encourages cities and counties to adopt similar ordinances that explicitly distinguishes how much police and other officials are required to work with federal immigration enforcement.
“It is critical that we protect immigrant communities throughout Kansas by prohibiting the use of city funds and resources for the enforcement of federal immigration,” said Nadine Johnson, executive director of the ACLU of Kansas. “This is a matter of public safety, because it improves police-community collaboration, and of fiscal responsibility, because always-limited local resources should not be spent on these federal-level enforcement activities.”
Lawrence City Commission members also have adopted a policy that enforces similar protections for undocumented people. A group in Wyandotte County, called the Safe & Welcoming Wyandotte coalition, is also pushing for a similar ordinance.
The ACLU of Kansas recently published a data set that shows thousands of the people arrested or removed by ICE haven’t committed a crime. ICE has removed 912 individuals in Johnson County between 2011 and 2019, according to the data. Statewide, ICE removed 43,069 people in 2019.