UNIVERSITY HEIGHTS, Ohio -- City Council's Committee-of-the-Whole decided Thursday night not to pursue sanctuary city status, but to look into becoming a "welcoming city."
Over the course of it's 90-minute meeting, committee members stated that they did not believe University Heights has the necessary resources to become a sanctuary city for undocumented immigrants, and were unclear as to the federal repercussions such a designation could bring about.
The issue has come up in several local communities after President Donald Trump issued an executive order temporarily stopping immigrants from coming to the United States from countries where vetting procedures are not efficient. Trump instituted the order as a means of protecting U.S. residents from terrorist attacks.
Opponents see the order as a travel ban and as a step towards keeping immigrants from coming to America.
Councilman Steven Sims, who ran the meeting in the absence of Vice Mayor Susan Pardee, began the proceedings by reading a Wikipedia definition of a sanctuary city.
That definition states that there is no precise legal meaning for the term, but that it "generally applies to cities that do not use municipal funds or resources to enforce national immigration laws, and may forbid their police and municipal employees to inquire about a person's immigration status or share such information with immigration enforcement."
The definition led to a lengthy discussion about how University Heights police handle situations involving potential illegal immigrants.
"We treat everybody the same," UHPD Chief Steve Hammett told council members.
Hammett said that it is usual procedure to check the background of those involved in incidents through Leads, the online investigation system, police departments around the U.S. use and, if necessary, through a site that contains immigration information.
If it is found that the U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) has placed a hold on an immigrant, or if the immigrant gives doubtful information, the UHPD notifies ICE. The UHPD will also call ICE if a crime involving an immigrant is considered serious.
"Any detainee is checked locally and federally," Hammett said.
Hammett said that UHPD officers do not normally ask detainees or witnesses their country of origin.
"More often than not, they tell you if they're undocumented," he said.
In recent years, the chief said, the UHPD has come across six illegal immigrants who were involved in incidents and who required a call to ICE.
Four of those incidents occurred in 2010 and involved cases of domestic violence, disorderly conduct, a matter in which a driver struck a police car, and a traffic stop that led to a revelation that the driver was undocumented.
In 2013, an undocumented immigrant drove into a building, and in 2015, there was a case in which a resident called police to state that an immigrant housekeeper was found seeking information on the home's computer about ISIS.
In the case of the housekeeper, who was homeless, ICE questioned her and allowed her to take a bus back to family in Pennsylvania.
Two of those six gave University Heights addresses.
"We've never stopped anyone to determine if they were (a legal immigrant)," Hammett said. "We don't have the resources or inclination to do something like that."
Council members had many thoughts about the subject of immigration and procedures in place.
Sims believes that not every incident involving an undocumented immigrant requires a call to ICE.
"I don't agree with the idea that just because someone is undocumented there needs to be a call to a federal agency, especially if that person is known within the community.," he said.
Councilwoman Michele Weiss, speaking about the idea of University Heights becoming a sanctuary city, said that council showed its support and compassion in September, 2016, by passing a resolution backing the LGBT community.
"University Heights doesn't have the resources to take in an influx of undocumented immigrants," she said, adding that schools and housing would be overburdened. "If this (idea) were to progress, I feel it is something voters should vote on."
Councilwoman Pamela Cameron agreed that a decision by voters would be best to settle the matter.
Councilman John Rach said he admired resident James Outman, who brought the sanctuary city idea to council two weeks ago, and his passion for the issue.
"I'm not happy with what the Trump administration is doing," Rach said. "I don't care for the negative tone."
Rach said he was concerned about federal repercussions, such as the possibility of the Trump administration cutting funding from sanctuary cities, which include San Francisco and Chicago, and, in Ohio, Oberlin and Painesville, among others.
Sims, who said he didn't favor University Heights becoming a sanctuary city, said it is important that decisions made in America today are not based solely on financial reasons, such as the threat of losing funding.
"There is a concern as to where we're headed (as a country)," Sims said. "I want to make a decision based on principle and not based on financial repercussions."
Recently, the cities of Cleveland Heights, South Euclid and Beachwood have had their city councils pass resolutions making them "welcoming cities," rather than sanctuary cities.
Cities that become welcoming resolve to be all-inclusive and make immigrants feel at home. They are included on the website welcomingamerica.org.
Rach suggested that council look into its own welcoming city resolution.
The idea has been passed on to council's Government Affairs Committee, where it will be discussed at a date yet to be announced.
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