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Commissioners, public debate immigration ‘non-sanctuary’ resolution

Lancaster County Government Center, 150 N. Queen St. (Photo: Tim Stuhldreher)

A resolution declaring Lancaster County a non-sanctuary county appears poised to pass by a 2-1 vote on Wednesday.

The county commissioners are scheduled to vote on the measure at their 9:15 a.m. meeting. At their work session Tuesday, Commissioners Josh Parsons and Ray D’Agostino, both Republicans, stated their support, while Commissioner Alice Yoder, the sole Democrat, came out in opposition.

The proposed resolution was crafted in response to Lancaster City Council passing a “Trust Act” ordinance last month. Among other things, the city’s measure bars police and city staff from asking about anyone’s immigration status except as required by law or court order.

On Monday, Mayor Danene Sorace posted three statements about the ordinance under the heading “Know the Facts.” The city’s action does not impede federal enforcement, the post says, but allows everyone, “regardless of immigration status, to feel safe reporting crimes.”

The county’s resolution calls on the city to repeal its ordinance. It contends that Lancaster city’s action may attract an influx of migrants to Lancaster County as a whole, leading to increased crime and stress on social services.

It affirms that the county sheriff cooperate with Immigration & Customs Enforcement, or ICE, and stipulates that the county won’t provide services to undocumented immigrants except as required by law.

D’Agostino said the county’s measure is needed so that citizens know where county government stands, and undocumented immigrants know, too.
“The bottom line is, we will follow the law in Lancaster County,” he said.

Parsons said directing local law enforcement to cooperate with their federal counterparts erodes trust and leads to chaos. If you don’t like a law, he said, the recourse is to lobby to change it.

Yoder noted that Lancaster’s ordinance codified existing city policy that has been in effect for years, and said there’s no evidence it diminished public safety.

Undocumented immigrants “are your neighbors, friends and coworkers,” she said: Most live outside Lancaster city and do essential work in the county’s agriculture industry. She noted that U.S. Rep. Lloyd Smucker, R-Lancaster, co-sponsored the Farm Workforce Modernization Act, which would provide a pathway for current undocumented farmworkers to earn legal status.

She characterized the resolution as a waste of time — a nonbinding measure that will divide the community and said immigration policy is a federal topic, not a county one.

It is indeed a county issue, D’Agostino countered. He cited Cook County, Illinois, which recently approved $70 million in its $9.26 billion budget for its Refugee Health Center, which serves thousands of asylum-seekers.

Municpalities are seeing the border “coming to their communities,” he said, and the county already has enough to do for people here legally.

Daniel Alvalle speaks to the Lancaster County commissioners on Tuesday, March 19, 2024. (Photo: Tim Stuhldreher)

Daniel Alvalle is the Pennsylvania director for CASA, a nonprofit that pushed Lancaster to adopt its ordinance. Research shows that sanctuary policies are not associated with crime increases, he said, saying that narratives to the contrary are false and damaging to immigrants. Two other members of the public, Minnie Nguyen and Andy Tran, denounced the proposed resolution as illegitimate “fearmongering.”

The other six people who spoke enthusiastically endorsed it. Legal immigration is welcome, they said, but overlooking illegal immigration brings crime and spiraling social costs.

“I don’t want what’s happening at the border to happen here,” said Danielle Lindemuth, a local FreePA leader and Elizabethtown Area School Board member.

Lori Longenecker said her family’s documents were checked frequently when they lived in Ecuador, and that was fine: “We respected their laws. We were thankful that they let us in there, and we valued the safety and security of the people that were there.”

Wendy Voulopos noted her Greek heritage and said she’s fully in favor of legal immigration. She asked Yoder if she’s met with leaders of cities with sanctuary policies. When Yoder said she hadn’t, Voulopos suggested she start with Philadelphia, where “crime is through the roof.”

As things now, the Lancaster community is struggling with a major homelessness problem, she said. It doesn’t need more demands on its services.

“Letting everybody come in and agreeing we’re going to foot the bill for it? It’s unsustainable,” she said.

Shawn Gollatz suggested the county’s resolution should be revised to add sanctions for Lancaster’s City Council and individuals and organizations like CASA that “aid and abet” undocumented immigration. Gollatz previously spoke against Lancaster’s ordinance at City Council’s March 12 meeting.

Danielle Lindemuth speaks to the commissioners. (Photo: Tim Stuhldreher)

Lindemuth challenged Yoder directly, saying illegal immigrants are indeed committing crimes in Lancaster County, she said, and school districts like Lindemuth’s are incurring the cost of educating children from undocumented households.

“Why would you want to have funding go to illegal people?” she asked. “People who chose to come here with zero documentation, zero vetting, not knowing if they’re going to blow up another building, if they are going to rape another woman, if they are going to be part of a drug cartel?”

“I don’t want the sex trafficking here. I don’t want to worry about my 18-year-old going to the mall and have to worry about her being sex trafficked. I don’t want to have to worry about her being raped. I don’t want to have to worry about her having problems. And I don’t want to have to arm her to protect herself from this.”

She concluded: “We will absolutely, 100%, allow legal people to come here. There is absolutely zero reason to have an illegal. … We have to stop this.”