Ithaca declared itself a sanctuary city Wednesday night, enacting stringent restrictions on when and how the Ithaca Police Department can respond to federal requests relating to undocumented people residing in the city.
Common Council unanimously passed the legislation surrounded by more than 100 people who packed City Hall to witness the vote. Dozens of people spoke in favor of the legislation, including a Cornell professor who blasted a Common Council member for comments about immigrants at a previous meeting.
The legislation, which was introduced by Ithaca Mayor Svante Myrick ’09 with guidance from New York Attorney General Eric Schneiderman, does the following:
- Prohibits IPD from inquiring about the immigration status of an individual unless the department deems that person’s status necessary to investigate alleged criminal activity.
- Prohibits IPD from engaging in the enforcement of federal immigration law.
- Prohibits IPD from providing Immigration and Customs Enforcement or Customs and Border Protection access to an individual if the federal agencies’ sole purpose is enforcement of federal immigration law.
- Requires IPD — if ICE or CBP has requested to detain, transfer, interview, or interrogate a person — to notify that individual before responding to the agencies.
- Prohibits city employees from inquiring about immigration status when providing benefits unless those benefits are contingent upon a person’s citizenship or immigration status.
- Allows IPD to respond to a “civil immigration detainer” from ICE or CBP only if the request is accompanied by a judicial warrant, unless there is probable cause that the person has re-entered the country after a previous removal and been convicted of a violent or serious crime, federal crime or there is probable cause that the person is or has been engaged in terrorist activity
- Mandates that IPD records every request received from ICE or CBP as well as IPD’s response and the race, gender, criminal history and additional information about the person in question to ensure IPD’s compliance with the city ordinance.
- Requires IPD to provide the above information to Common Council and the Ithaca city clerk, who will make the information public after redacting identifying information.
First Ward Alderperson Cynthia Brock, who introduced similar legislation in January, said the ordinance passed Wednesday allows Ithaca to keep undocumented residents safe without violating federal law because it was based on guidelines from the attorney general.
“What federal law prohibits any state or local agency from doing, is it prohibits us from restricting communication between employees and the federal immigration authorities,” Brock told The Sun. “What this ordinance does is pretty much restrict every other action except that one action.”
Ithaca declared itself a sanctuary city in 1985, Brock said, but did not codify its statement, meaning the resolution was a show of support rather than a local law.
“What we did last night is we put it into our city code,” Brock said, meaning that the legislation applies as long as it stands — regardless of who is mayor, chief of police or on Common Council.
Brock said she hoped Cornell students will feel safer now that the legislation has passed, and be more comfortable accessing city services, calling police for help or providing a witness statement to authorities without fear of deportation or interrogation.
“I can only imagine the environment of anxiety that our students and those who are undocumented have to live in on a day-to-day basis,” she said. “I hope that, through this legislation, they can go on with their lives in the city of Ithaca with a higher level of comfort and a higher feeling of dignity and security and respect, and know that while they are here, we are here to protect, to honor and to serve them and their family and friends.”
During public comment, Prof. Ella Maria Diaz, English and Latina/o Studies, harshly criticized statements made by a Common Council member at a City Administration Committee meeting in January.
Diaz did not mention Alderperson Donna Fleming by name, but her comments were directed to disprove the Third Ward representative’s previous statements questioning whether Ithaca wanted undocumented residents to hold jobs within the city.
“I think that all we want to say is that we want undocumented immigrants to feel welcome to use city services without fear that their status will be detected and reported to federal authorities,” Fleming said in January. “It’s not my understanding that we support undocumented people holding jobs, is it? We’re still supporting work visas — that’s not something that we’re seeking a redefinition for, is it?”
Undocumented people often work for minimal wage without overtime and other protections that citizens expect, Diaz said, adding that American citizens have grown reliant on the undocumented workforce.
“Undocumented people in the United States do not take citizens’ jobs,” Diaz said Wednesday. “This is a historical fact and a current reality.”
“When the question of visas is raised and a Council person asks if there are undocumented people working without visas and living in Ithaca, I grow deeply concerned,” Diaz said as members of the public snapped and cheered. “Visas are expensive. Visas can be sponsored by institutions and corporations and wealthy people who come to do white collar work … visas have nothing to do with undocumented people in the United States.”
Tompkins County Sheriff Ken Lansing issued a statement Thursday assuring residents that he is “committed to helping all people in their time of need, regardless of their immigration status.”
“We do not inquire about immigration status unless it is directly relevant to an investigation and under no other circumstance,” Lansing said, adding that the enforcement of federal immigration law is the responsibility of the federal government, not local authorities.