More than 50 people turned out for the Feb. 27 Shaker Heights council meeting requesting a "Sanctuary City" designation in opposition to federal immigration policies. Tom Jewell/Special to cleveland.com
SHAKER HEIGHTS, Ohio -- In response to federal immigration restrictions that have hit close to home, about 50 people turned out for Monday's council meeting to ask for an official "Sanctuary City" declaration.
Organizer, businessman and resident Brandon Cornuke said that the recent actions of the federal government "threaten civil liberties and directly assault the values of Shaker Heights."
In joining the ranks of Sanctuary Cities, Cornuke said that Shaker officials would refuse to assist with immigration enforcement and would only hold undocumented immigrants when there is a federal warrant involved.
And despite threats of federal sanctions, Cornuke -- who has so far gathered about 300 supporting signatures in a Change.org online petition -- said that Sanctuary Cities are legal under the "home rule" doctrine for local governments.
A Greek-trained physician who was born in Iran -- one of the seven countries targeted in the Executive Orders -- Samaneh K. Zarabi and her family have lived in the U.S. for 10 years.
She told council that her medical residency could be affected by the new immigration policies.
"On behalf of the 6,248 residents who work in health care, the least I would expect from you is to register your opposition," Zarabi told council.
As Iranian immigrants with two Texas-born sons, Nima and Roxana Sharifi have heard of anxieties among children coming home from school with concerns brought on by policies they feel are "anti-immigrant and fundamentally anti-American."
A pediatric physician whose work includes children infected with HIV -- a problem she says has spiked through the opioid crisis -- Dr. Sahera Dirajlal Fargo worries that some patients aren't coming in for fear they will be detained.
"Immigration policy is no longer a spectator sport for me and my patients," Fargo told council, adding that people may be skipping out on immunizations and vaccinations as well.
Shaker resident Dana Prince, an assistant professor at Case Western Reserve University's Mandel School of Applied Social Sciences, said that questions surrounding "the targeting of assumed immigrant status affect anyone in this room."
Prince hails from the "Sanctuary City" of Seattle in the recently-declared "Sanctuary State" of Washington.
Mayor Earl Leiken said the group's concerns were shared by city officials, adding that Shaker remains a "very inclusive, diverse and welcoming community."
At the same time, the request for Sanctuary City status raises some legal issues that will require more careful consideration by the city law department, he added.
Leiken asked how those in attendance would feel about possible designation as a "Welcoming City," as has been done in nearby Cleveland Heights, Beachwood and South Euclid, and is under consideration in University Heights.
Cornuke said he felt it was extremely important for Shaker to identify itself as a "Sanctuary City," since that is the term used by President Donald Trump in his Executive Orders for possible retaliation through federal funding cuts -- already being challenged in court.
"(President Trump) is trying to intimidate communities that defy him," Cornuke said. "With sanctuary status, we would be standing in solidarity with communities who have courageously taken a stand against those executive orders."
While a "Welcoming City" lends support to opposition, Cornuke said there aren't any teeth to that legislation, with nothing that binds local law enforcement from cooperating with the feds.
"We cannot be complicit in allowing fear to erode the values that we as a city hold so dear," Cornuke said.
In other business at the Feb. 27 meeting, council passed a resolution strongly opposing some of the aspects Ohio Gov. John Kasich's proposed state budget, namely a proposal centralize business net profit tax collections.
Council gave first reading to the proposal on Feb. 13, and since then, Councilman Sean Malone added some language that "toned down" the resolution somewhat, allowing for more of a dialogue with state officials.
Malone said he does not believe the state has the ability to take over collections of the taxes, from which Shaker received a little over $1 million last year, with the Regional Income Tax Agency keeping about 1.75 percent after refunds.
The measure passed 6-1, with Councilman Tres Roeder dissenting, saying that while some very good points were made in the city's resolution, it will save the city some money "if the state can pull this off."
Leiken expressed concern about receiving the revenues on a quarterly basis, rather than twice a month, as well as this being a first step in the state's bid to take over all tax collections.
Noting that the state is already sitting on a billion-dollar "Rainy Day Fund," Councilman Earl Williams said "I just don't know where this is going to end with the state. When do they stop telling the cities to 'send us money?'"
Roeder said the proposed state collection system could simplify filings for electricians, real estate agents and plumbers who have to file separately in each community they work in.
Acting City Finance Director Bob Baker said that the optional Ohio Business Gateway tax collection system is already in place, but less than 200 businesses chose it, compared with over 71,000 businesses filing with RITA and other local agencies.
Resident Sara Schiavoni thanked council for holding off and giving the resolution a second reading to allow additional feedback.
"It's ridiculous that they think they can do a better job of collecting and then give us our money," Schiavoni said.
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