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United Way of Lancaster County


City Council passes bill protecting immigrants, proscribing cooperation with ICE

The Lancaster Welcoming Mural, designed by artist Claudia Rojas and located on the eastern wall of Ganse Apothecary, 355 W. King St, Lancaster. (Photo: Kyle Gamble)

Lancaster City Council on Tuesday unanimously passed legislation with provisions barring city police and employees from asking about individuals’ immigration status, discriminating based on it, or cooperating with U.S. Immigration & Customs Enforcement unless mandated by law.

Daniel Alvalle

Daniel Alvalle is the Pennsylvania director of CASA, an immigrant advocacy group that pushed for the legislation, known as a “Trust Act,” and provided input on its provisions. This new ordinance, he said, “sends a message loud and clear to others that Lancaster city is truly a welcoming city for all.”

City Councilman Jaime Arroyo said the city’s action would set an example for other communities in Lancaster County and beyond.

The vote drew strong condemnation, however, from three local state senators and Lancaster County’s two Republican commissioners.

In a joint statement, Sens. Ryan Aument, Chris Gebhard and Scott Martin said they were “extremely alarmed” and that City Council members “are breaking the law and compromising the safety of Lancaster County residents.”

All three are Republicans. Aument’s and Martin’s districts cover most of Lancaster County; Gebhard’s district covers Lebanon County, part of Berks County and a small part of northern Lancaster County. (All Lancaster city elected officials are Democrats.)

In separate statements, Commissioners Josh Parsons and Ray D’Agostino said the “Trust Act” would accomplish the opposite of what it promises.

“Legal immigrants do receive services and do not have to fear law enforcement unless they break the law,” D’Agostino said. “What need is there then to adopt such an ordinance other than to provide sanctuary to people who are in the country and city illegally?”

He said the county sheriff’s department “will continue to enforce the law and work with ICE anywhere in Lancaster County.”

Parsons said City Council “apparently decided to bend a knee to the most radical, lawless portion of their constituency and officially become a sanctuary city. … We should all, especially those who support legal immigration, be outraged by those who intentionally undermine our laws.”

About the legislation

The ordinance (PDF) passed on Tuesday prohibits police, other city employees and elected officials from inquiring about, documenting or disclosing anyone’s immigration or citizenship status, or taking any action based on it. They may not provide any information or assistance to ICE.

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.

Lancaster officials say those provisions codifies practices and administrative policies that the city has already had in place.

City police Chief Richard Mendez has said his department historically has refrained from engaging in immigration enforcement: “It’s not our lane.”

Immigration advocates say enlisting local police in law enforcement is counterproductive, encouraging racial profiling and leading even legal immigrants to avoid cooperating with police for fear of endangering friends or relatives or of having their own status questioned. Opponents say it makes legitimate enforcement more difficult and erodes security.

In a statement provided to WGAL, ICE said its enforcement operations “are most effective when there is a strong communication and cooperation with local law enforcement partners. Sanctuary jurisdictions are therefore inherently less safe.”

City officials said the ordinance does not make Lancaster a sanctuary city: It does not shield individuals from federal immigration law or its enforcement by federal agents.

Before Tuesday’s vote, City Councilwoman Janet Diaz asked about a pending state bill, House Bill 1840, that if enacted would bar municipalities from passing sanctuary laws and require police to report suspected illegal immigrants to ICE.

It has seen no action since being referred to the House Judiciary Committee in November, and is not expected to reach the House floor, Alvalle said.

Certified Welcoming

Besides its provisions regarding immigration enforcement, the ordinance obliges Lancaster to maintain its current three stars in the nonprofit Welcoming America’s “Certified Welcoming” rating program.

It requires municipalities to meet criteria in six areas: Civic engagement, economic development, community connection, education, equitable access, government and community leadership and safe communities.