Why won’t Mayor Alvey put Safe and Welcoming Wyandotte on the agenda?

August 10, 2021 3:33 am

Supporters of the Safe and Welcoming Wyandotte initiative participate in a July 22 rally. (Alex Ruybalid)

The Kansas Reflector welcomes opinion pieces from writers who share our goal of widening the conversation about how public policies affect the day-to-day lives of people throughout our state. Judy Ancel is president of the Kansas City-based Cross Border Network and a retired labor educator.

For four years, a coalition of Wyandotte County groups has been urging Mayor David Alvey and the Unified Government commissioners to pass an ordinance called Safe and Welcoming Wyandotte. It would provide for a municipal photo ID to the thousands who have none. People without IDs include the houseless, formerly incarcerated, elderly who are homebound or whose driver’s license has expired, poor people, and many immigrants who lost their papers coming here or had them confiscated by U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement or law enforcement. IDs would be issued in a manner to ensure that individuals’ information is protected and further safeguarded by mandating no communication between Unified Government employees, including police and sheriffs, and ICE, with exceptions only for instances when public safety is at risk. This ordinance would stop the needless deportation of hundreds of hardworking people that is facilitated by county employees.

The coalition has made many appeals to the mayor, sent hundreds of postcards and petitions signed by hundreds, and lobbied, but he has never granted us a hearing at which commissioners could hear testimony from residents who need this ordinance or let us answer questions and refute misinformation. In frustration, we held our own hearings on June 1 and July 6 with testimony.

“I suffered from verbal, physical and psychological violence for 13 years,” said one of the individuals who provided testimony. “My ex-husband is an American citizen, and I did not report him to the police for fear of being deported because I was constantly threatened that he would speak to immigration and that they would deport me and I would lose my children.”

The Safe and Welcoming ordinance would have given this woman more confidence to come forward. People need to be able to trust the police, but if police are working with ICE, that trust will not exist.

Racial profiling, which many people of color complain of in Wyandotte County, is a constant fear for immigrants, writes Judy Ancel. (Karla Juarez)

Another individual, a tradesman with his own business, described being pulled over by Kansas City, Kansas, police. The officer said he was going to get a ticket for driving without a license. The man told the officer that he had a license and was a citizen, but the officer said, “No you don’t. You’re Mexican,” and gave him a ticket.

Racial profiling, which many people of color in our community complain of, is a constant fear for immigrants when police and sheriffs routinely call ICE to check on people they’ve stopped.

Immigration Attorney Catalina Velarde described the pipeline that exists from police to the sheriffs and the county jail and on to ICE and deportation. Wyandotte County Sheriff Don Ash told us he calls ICE “as a courtesy” when immigrants leave his jail. This pipeline to deportation has swept away hundreds of Wyandotte County residents in the last few years, the vast majority of whom (87.5%) had no criminal conviction.

The deported are workers, many of them called “essential” during the COVID-19 pandemic. They are fathers who leave both citizen and non-citizen children behind. They are often the breadwinner of the family. All of us are impacted when our neighbors get deported, because the rest of the immigrant community recoils in fear, even those with papers. That fear makes them skip their kids’ parent-teacher conference. They stay home, afraid to leave their neighborhood to shop or run errands. They accumulate health problems, induced by fear and insecurity.

For these reasons, many community organizations and leaders want the mayor and commissioners to pass Safe and Welcoming Wyandotte. Our coalition includes El Centro, Cross-Lines Community Outreach, Advocates for Immigrant Rights & Reconciliation, The Cross Border Network for Justice and Solidarity, Grandview Park Presbyterian Church, the Mainstream Coalition, the Rosedale Development Association, the Unified School District 500 school board, Wyandotte County District Attorney Mark Dupree and three Unified Government commissioners: Melissa Bynum, Harold Johnson and Christian Ramirez.

They want a community where young people don’t have to live with the constant fear that their parents will be deported; where, as Dupree hopes, immigrants who are victims of crime will report them and show up to testify; where, as other cities that have adopted similar policies have found, crime rates are lower, there is less domestic violence and more prosperity as people feel freer to shop and participate in community activities.

Frankly, we are puzzled and wonder what Mayor Alvey and the other commissioners are afraid of. Is it that they don’t care because unnaturalized immigrants can’t vote? So many of our local politicians praise the transformation of the Central Avenue business district by resourceful, hardworking immigrants. Isn’t it time to embrace our immigrants as members of our community and pass Safe and Welcoming Wyandotte?

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Judy Ancel
Judy Ancel

Judy Ancel is president of the Cross Border Network, a Kansas City-based organization that supports human rights in Latin America and exposes how U.S. foreign policy drives the dislocation and migration of poor people. The Cross Border Network supports workers across borders and who cross borders. She is a retired labor educator who directed the University of Missouri-Kansas City’s labor education program for 29 years, and she still produces the Heartland Labor Forum at 6 p.m. Thursdays on Kansas City Community Radio, 90.1 FM, kkfi.org.