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United Way of Lancaster County


Resolution declares Lancaster County a non-sanctuary jurisdiction

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

Lancaster County is now a “non-sanctuary county,” after the county commissioners passed a resolution to that effect Wednesday morning.

The vote was 2-1, with Republican Commissioners Ray D’Agostino and Josh Parsons in favor and Democrat Alice Yoder opposing.

Their action followed roughly 90 minutes of public comment, much of it highly emotional. In all, 19 people took to the podium — eight for the resolution, 11 against.

Another nine people made comments on the issue at the commissioners’ Tuesday work session, where passions also ran high. At that meeting, six people spoke for the resolution versus eight against.

Last month, Lancaster City Council passed a “Trust Act” ordinance that bars police and other city employees from asking anyone about their immigration status or cooperating with U.S. Immigration & Customs Enforcement unless required by law or court order or when “reasonably necessary” in a criminal investigation.

City spokeswoman Amber Strazzo Righter told LNP that the ordinance does not keep the city from honoring ICE detainers, and it will do so, although it hasn’t received any in recent years.

The county’s resolution rebukes the city’s action and calls for the ordinance’s repeal. It exhorts the Biden administration to secure the border and county municipalities to pass “non-sanctuary” resolutions of their own. To date, at least two have done so: Columbia Borough and Conoy Township.

The city’s ordinance codified policies in place since at least 2019. The county’s resolution, too, restates existing policy: The sheriff and district attorney cooperate with ICE, and the county does not provide services to undocumented individuals except as required by law.

The discussion Wednesday broadly followed the contours of the one Tuesday. Supporters of the resolution said they welcome legal immigration, but that turning a blind eye to illegal border crossings abets drug cartels, human traffickers and other criminals. Sanctuary cities are struggling with crime and spiraling social services costs, they said, and the Lancaster community cannot afford to have that happen here.

“We have no idea who these people are,” said Shelli McWilliams, who likened ignoring undocumented immigration to throwing open the doors of County Prison. “… It’ll destroy Lancaster city.”

Immigration today is a mix of “the good, the bad and the very evil,” said Steve Moore, who is a Conoy Township supervisor but said he was speaking as a private citizen. He said that as a farmer, he interacts with a thousand or more legal immigrants, many from refugee camps. They went through the system, he said, and they’re doing great. Current undocumented immigrants, he said, are unvetted: “It’s too short a time to even develop statistics.” They may be fine overall, but “it’s the bad characters in there that I’m worried about.”

Opponents accused Parsons and D’Agostino of fomenting fear and dehumanizing a vulnerable population for political gain. Research shows that sanctuary policies don’t lead to more crime, they said; but their absence makes undocumented individuals fearful of interacting with government and police. Several went further, accusing the two commissioners broadly of indifference to poor and marginalized groups.

The resolution attempts to instill “fear and hatred” toward immigrants, but it “has no basis, states no reliable sources,” said Daniel Alvalle, Pennsylvania director of CASA, the nonprofit that advocated for Lancaster city’s ordinance. All immigrants, he said, deserve dignity, security and opportunity “regardless of immigration status.”

Lancaster County could evict all its undocumented immigrants tomorrow and the crime rate would not go down, Ben Cattell Noll said.

The commissioners, in their comments, largely reiterated what they said Tuesday. Yoder said again that immigration policy is not within the county’s purview, and that bringing it up in such a high-profile way had increased anger and divisiveness.

Parsons and D’Agostino said Lancaster’s ordinance is at odds with federal and state law, despite representations to the contrary, and that people are justifiably upset over selective enforcement.

D’Agostino rejected the notion that the county lacks compassion and said he takes that personally. In his years on the county homelessness coalition, he said, he, county government and nonprofits have made great efforts for vulnerable people: You can debate whether it’s enough, he said, but to say it’s nothing “is simply false.”

Parsons suggested the city’s ordinance opens it to legal liability. For a city to formally enact such a policy “is a serious thing,” he said, and “It is appropriate for county government to say that this is not OK.”