City Council resolution causes confusion over possible ‘Sanctuary City’ status

welcome to ames

K. Rambo

Is Ames a “sanctuary city?”

Short answer: there is no short answer.

On June 27, the Ames City Council approved the Resolution Reaffirming the Public Safety Function of Local Law Enforcement for the City of Ames. The resolution restates that the Ames Police Department does not enforce federal immigration laws and to the city’s knowledge, never has.

The goal of the resolution is to reaffirm that local law enforcement is concerned with protecting residents of Ames more than detaining and deporting those who are undocumented. While policies that regard safety and communication as more important than immigration status are often referred to as “sanctuary policies,” whether this policy is technically a sanctuary policy remains unclear.

Also included in the resolution is that it does not “prohibit, or in any way restrict, any official or employee of the City of Ames from sending to or receiving from, Immigrations and Customs Enforcement (ICE) information regarding the citizenship or immigration status, lawful or unlawful, of any individual (8 U.S.C. Section 1373).”

This sentence within the resolution states the City of Ames will still transmit and receive information concerning immigration and citizenship status to and from ICE, if requested. The language is based on and references 8 U.S.C. Section 1373.

8 U.S.C. Section 1373 vaguely outlines the policies on how citizenship and immigration information must be transferred to and from the Immigration and Naturalization Services (INS).

The INS was eliminated in 2003. The functions of the INS were distributed to ICE, U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services, and U.S. Customs and Border Protection.

The resolution passed in Ames is a verbatim copy of a resolution passed in Iowa City on Jan. 17. On three separate instances spanning January and February, ICE listed the resolution in their currently-suspended Declined Detainer Outcome Report as limiting cooperation with federal law enforcement.

There is no clear legal definition of a sanctuary city or jurisdiction, but the Trump administration has left a trail of breadcrumbs that lead to an apparent definition.

One of the earliest and most integral immigration policies of the administration came from an executive order titled “Enhancing Public Safety in the Interior of the United States.” The order spurred the Declined Detainer Outcome Reports.

Signed by President Trump on Jan. 25,  less than a week after his inauguration, the order is the first instance of the administration enacting policy that attempts to restrict federal funding for so-called sanctuary cities.

“Ensure that jurisdictions that fail to comply with applicable Federal law do not receive Federal funds, except as mandated by law;” the order reads. Since the order was enacted, attempts to restrict any federal funding on the grounds of “sanctuary policies” have been halted in court, at least temporarily.

More in-depth information in the order is contained within the various references to laws and codes.

“In furtherance of this policy, the Secretary shall immediately take appropriate action to engage with the Governors of the States, as well as local officials, for the purpose of preparing to enter into agreements under section 287(g) of the INA (8 U.S.C. 1357(g)).”

287(g) is a provision that allows for the deputization of local and state law enforcement, giving them to the power to enforce federal immigration laws.

Ames Chief of Police Charles Cychosz said no official attempt has been made to deputize Ames police.

Another law mentioned several times in the executive order is 8 U.S.C. 1373, the same law that the Iowa City and Ames resolutions reference.

“…no person or agency may prohibit, or in any way restrict, a Federal, State, or local government entity from doing any of the following with respect to information regarding the immigration status, lawful or unlawful, of any individual:
(1) Sending such information to, or requesting or receiving such information from, the Immigration and Naturalization Service.
(2) Maintaining such information.
(3) Exchanging such information with any other Federal, State, or local government entity”

Comparing this section of 8 U.S.C. 1373 with the portion of the resolution passed in Ames that mentions it, the only portion of this policy not included is “maintaining such information.”

While there is no further explanation provided in the law, Cychosz said he assumes that means maintaining a type of database, which Ames Police does not do.

An ICE official declined to clarify what “maintaining such information” means when put into practice.

Cychosz said that there has been no communication from the federal government about the resolution or Ames police department policy.

In a Department of Justice memo released on May 22, Attorney General Jeff Sessions offers a rather malleable definition of sanctuary jurisdictions.

“[T]he Attorney General and the Secretary [of Homeland Security], in their discretion and to the extent consistent with law, shall ensure that jurisdictions that willfully refuse to comply with 8 U.S.C. 1373 (sanctuary jurisdictions) are not eligible to receive Federal grants, except as deemed necessary for law enforcement purposes by the Attorney General or the Secretary. The Secretary has the authority to designate, in his discretion and to the extent consistent with law, a jurisdiction as a sanctuary jurisdiction.”

Iowa City City Attorney Elaine Dilkes was unaware of Iowa City being listed in the report until being interviewed by the Iowa State Daily. Dilkes said she was unaware of any communication from the federal government regarding the resolution.

The report states that the criteria that the resolution met is that it means the city is “willing to only accept some notifications on detainers.”

Dilkes noted that Iowa City does not operate a jail and therefore does not receive detainer requests. Ames does not operate a jail, either.

An ICE official declined further comment about the accuracy and methodology of the reports which are available for viewing online. No public information is available for how these reports were compiled, or the criteria used.

Corrections were issued for the first Declined Detainer Outcome Report, Iowa City’s listing was unaltered.

The official redirected to the statement on the ICE website that accompanies the detainer reports.

“ICE remains committed to publishing the most accurate information available regarding declined detainers across the country and continues to analyze and refine its reporting methodologies.  While this analysis is ongoing, the publication of the Declined Detainer Outcome Report (DDOR) will be temporarily suspended.”

The Ames City Council was unaware that ICE had classified a resolution with the exact same language in such a way when they approved the resolution.

“Initially, my reservations were whether this could be construed as putting Ames in a classification of being a sanctuary city,” said Ames City Councilman Tim Gartin. “Particularly, people who are victims of domestic violence, are very vulnerable, in general. But if you are undocumented and you are here and you are a victim of domestic abuse, you have even a greater level of concern because to contact the police may be to risk deportation for you and your children.”

Gartin voted in support of the resolution and echoed the reasoning that Cychosz gave and the resolution mentioned, stating that victims and witnesses of crime need to feel safe coming forward to law enforcement.

“It was explicitly discussed that this was not a sanctuary city thing, and frankly, I think the term ‘sanctuary city…’ it’s not obvious what that term means, right?” Ames City Councilman Peter Orazem said. “So I think what cities who declare themselves sanctuary cities do may be no different than what Ames does or it may go beyond that where they actually defy what federal requirements are, but we adhere strictly to what we’re allowed to do in the constitution.

“I think that the Iowa City thing was also designed to be something consistent with sanctuary city without being a sanctuary city thing.”

Orazem was the sole “nay” vote on the resolution. Orazem felt that the resolution “did nothing” and the language unfairly targeted law enforcement in Ames.

“It was clearly written in response to this national debate on sanctuary laws and so we said ‘okay, well we oughta do something to make us feel better that we’re doing something, even if we’re going to write something expressly with the purpose guaranteeing that we’re not doing anything,’” Orazem said. “I think that what it was was our human relations commission said ‘oh, Iowa City did this, let’s do that.’ that’s about the extent of the actual investigation that went into what we did.”