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United Way of Lancaster County


Bill before City Council would codify immigrant protections

(Photo: Tim Stuhldreher)

City Council’s is poised to enact its first ordinance of the year later this month: A measure to formalize existing city policies toward immigrants.

Bill 01 of 2024 would bar city police or other staff from assisting with federal immigration enforcement and would oblige Lancaster to maintain “Certified Welcoming” status. It was given a first reading at council’s meeting Tuesday evening, setting up a vote at the next meeting on Feb. 27.

The bill stems from discussions that began last year when the immigration advocacy group CASA called on Lancaster to enshrine robust protections for immigrants in its City Code. CASA has lobbied for such laws, known as “Trust Acts,” in a number of jurisdictions; its home state, Maryland, enacted one in 2021.

Daniel Alvalle

Last year, Mayor Danene Sorace said that passing legislation would be premature, but she and police Chief Richard Mendez assured Daniel Alvalle, CASA’s Pennsylvania director, that the city was already well aligned with the organization’s desired policies. Sorace pledged to continue working with CASA on further safeguards.

CASA is delighted with the result, Alvalle told City Council on Tuesday, saying his membership feels “heard, respected and seen.”

Among other things, the bill prohibits police, other city employees and elected officials from inquiring about, documenting or disclosing anyone’s immigration or citizenship status. They may not provide any information or assistance to U.S. Immigration & Customs Enforcement, known as ICE; or make any threats, including threats of immigration enforcement, related to immigration status.

There are exceptions if an action is required by state or federal law or a court action. The city may also ask prospective applicants to document their eligibility to work legally in the United States.

Among the bill’s other provisions:

  • Lancaster must maintain at least a 3-star rating under Version 2.0 (the current version) of the nonprofit Welcoming America’s 5-star “Certified Welcoming” rating system;
  • City Council is to engage in advocacy for policies that welcome and include immigrants;
  • The city and City Council must prepare annual reports documenting their welcoming policies and advocacy efforts.

On Tuesday, Councilman Jaime Arroyo said the bill gives Lancaster the opportunity to “set the example” for other municipalities, and to show that “all of our neighbors … are welcomed and are safe” regardless of their documentation status.

Immigration and immigration enforcement remain hugely partisan issues in the United States. Likely Republican presidential nominee Donald Trump has pledged “the Largest Domestic Deportation Operation in History” if he is re-elected.

During his first term, ICE aggressively recruited state and local law enforcement agencies to conduct immigration enforcement and Trump has said his administration would do so again. Immigrant advocates and many legal experts say the practice disrupts local communities’ trust in their police and encourages racial profiling.

Lancaster police have never engaged in immigration enforcement or cooperated with ICE, Mendez said during the discussion last year: “It’s not our lane.”