Welcomeness of Ames for immigrants, LGBTQA+ discussed at City Council

Maggie Curry

Undocumented immigrants should not be afraid to call law enforcement. This was the premise for a resolution presented at Tuesday night’s City Council meeting.

The resolution protects amnesty to undocumented immigrants when calling for emergency services. Ames Police Chief Charles Cychosz spoke in favor of the resolution as reaffirming policy the police department already has.

The resolution would stop the Ames Police Department from devoting any public resources to the enforcement of federal immigration laws and regulations.

It cites the purpose of law enforcement is to assure the safety of all persons who reside in or visit our community, and the power to monitor immigration being exclusive to the federal government through the Department of Homeland Security.

“It is essential to public safety that every person, regardles of immigration status, who is a victim of or a witness to a crime feel comfortable reporting crimes or aiding in the investigation of crimes,” the proposal says.

“As I read this document, it does acknowledge and does recognize we don’t have authority, responsibility, time or capability … it’s just not the business we’re in. Our focus, of course, is public safety,” Cychosz said.

City of Ames Mayor Ann Campbell asked if having this public statement, despite saying what is already being done, would help with community relationships.

Rick Exner, representing immigration advocate group AMOS, said there is fear in immigrant and undocumented communities following the presidential election. He said immigration officials often wear uniforms that have “police” on them, and often announce themselves as the police.

A community member reaffirmed what he had said from her own life. She said her daughters, despite being U.S. born, have been in fear of deportation since the election.

It was the Human Relations Commission, in a joint meeting with the City Council, that brought forward the resolution. The commission spent the year attending events in the community and responding to conflicts between communities. For example, the Human Relations commission helped reach an understanding between event organizers and citizens after the controversial display of Confederate materials at last year’s Bike Night in June.

“We held conversations with people … people don’t file complaints but there are problems out there, so we went out there to see what the problems were,” said John Klaus, commission member. “Welcomeness, I think, is something akin to happiness, but more achievable.” 

The commission also presented recommendations based on the Municipal Equality Index, which looked at the civil lives of LGBTQA+ persons in Ames.

“The Ames Human Relations Commission intends to improve in initiatives to improve our score,” Klaus said. “We would welcome the help of a full-time staff person, which is one of the recommendations from that survey.”

One of the recommendations suggested a city employee to act as an Equity Advisor. The council spent time considering a point person versus a full-time employee. The city of Dubuque has someone who fulfills a full-time position similar to what the commission has suggested. Another option is to have a person within the police department as a liaison.

“We can’t provide a person for one group,” council member Peter Orazem said.

For just LGBTQA+, “a point person would suffice,” said Joel Hochstein, a member of the Ames commission. For someone to work with all matters of diversity, he said it would need to be their sole job. They would build relationships in the community, act as a contact for those groups and analyze city services and policies to ensure equality.

Hochstein said this was a much broader conversation about citizens of various identities on the whole range of diversity becoming part of city representation and being more involved in community matters.

Mayor Campbell agreed with his statement, encouraging the commission to revisit the recommendations with a broader focus, incorporating more areas of diversity. The Equality Index and the recommendations as presented do look specifically at the lives of LGBTQA+ persons in the municipality.

Council member Tim Gartin asked the commission if the score matched the commission’s assessment of LGBTQA+ experience in Ames.

The Human Rights Commission works to advocate for LGBTQA+ rights nationally, specifically to improve the lives of LGBTQA+ people. Hochstein said the way the survey was described to him, the organization researches the city and then asks the city to provide further information or review the initial score.

“It seems like these factors are a bit arbitrary,” Gartin said. “We’re not doing well with their score, and I would respectfully disagree with their scoring… when you talk about welcomeness, there’s a reason people are flocking to Ames.”

Council member Bronwyn Beatty-Hansen said she had heard anecdotes from transgender people who had left Ames, not just because of city policy, but cultural aspects too.

Klaus said he and his team looked at the scorecard not as something to accept, but as useful feedback and criticism.