Feb. 22 2017 12:59 AM

Lansing needs a drink of courage on sanctuary cities

Action, not words, is usually what counts. And in normal times, that would be enough on the undocumented immigrant issue.

But with a bully in the White House, it’s time for Lansing to take the extra step and declare itself a sanctuary city.

The City Council has been debating this issue since President Donald Trump signed an executive order last month threatening to withhold federal funds from sanctuary cities. That could mean losing $6 million or more for programs that aid the city’s most vulnerable citizens. And a “Sanctuary Policy Prohibition Act” that’s been introduced in the state Legislature would cost Lansing upward of another $5 million in revenue-sharing funds. No small stakes.

The Council will take up the issue again on Monday for a third time. Jessica Yorko, Kathie Dunbar and Tina Houghton are pro-sanctuary city. But the majority seems to share Carol Wood’s sentiment: “The moral question is not complex, but the potential impact is complicated and potentially harmful.”

In other words, we’re concerned about putting our money where our mouth is.

Some argue that we can have it both ways: a policy that does what sanctuary cities do — which is to not become an arm of the feds in identifying undocumented immigrants — while not calling ourselves a sanctuary city.

“What matters is our policies and practices,” said a statement issued by Mayor Virg Bernero’s office last week, “and Mayor Bernero has been very clear that our police department does not and will not ask about immigration status in their encounters, nor will we cooperate with state or federal authorities if they attempt to transform our police officers into immigration agents.”

But the question that goes unanswered — as it did when I asked it last week — is, if all this is so, why not put a name on our policy, which is sanctuary city?

Trump’s executive order and the pending state legislation are aimed at policies, not titles.

Why the administration thinks that calling Lansing a “welcoming city,” as it now does, is somehow bullet proof is beyond me. God may have spared the Jews in Egypt, but I very much doubt Trump is going to pass over the communities that paint “we’re only a welcoming city” over their city halls.

What’s more likely is that even the Nut Job in Chief is going to have to accede to reality: Scores of cities — indeed, four entire states — call themselves sanctuaries. Is the White House really prepared to get bogged down in such a battle? Especially given the dubious legality of the order? Many courts have ruled that the federal government cannot coerce local and state governments — the best example of late being the U.S. Supreme Court ruling that reversed the Obama administration’s Medicaid expansion requirement.

More important, though: This is the time we need to stand up for what we believe in. As I listen to the debate in City Hall, I am not hearing anyone disagreeing with Carol Wood when she says the morally right thing to do is to be a sanctuary for undocumented Lansing residents. These are our friends and neighbors. They are not Mexico’s “most unwanted people … criminals, drug dealers, rapists,” as Trump claims. These are people trying to make a better life. They are like all Americans who came from other countries — in other words, all of us except for Native Americans. They were able to come here legally because we had a compassionate and sensible immigration policy.

What I am hearing is, at best, fear — exactly what bullies thrive on. We’re trying to go around the threat, just like kids do in taking another path home. And I understand that — when it doesn’t result in hurting other people.

This is a time we need leadership on this issue, and unfortunately we’re not getting it from the one person who could most influence this debate: Virg Bernero. Where’s the angriest mayor in America? Ducking. In an election year. Shocking.

Unfortunately, it doesn’t appear his declared opponent, state Rep. Andy Schor, is any more courageous on this front. In an interview for this week’s cover story on him, he sides with those who stop would short of labeling Lansing a sanctuary city.

And another potential mayoral candidate, Councilwoman Judi Brown Clarke, is no better. “I’m not trading one life for another,” she said, referring to the loss of funds for social programs. Social programs aren’t any help if you’re deported.

Our mayor, our mayoral candidates and most of our Council need to visit the wizard and get a glass of courage.

Something dangerous is afoot in Washington. History is going to judge us on our morality during this chapter. Calling ourselves a sanctuary city would be one way that the history books will reflect positively on Lansing. It can be our contribution to the growing resistance movement we are seeing around the country.

Resist.

Subscribe to Our Newsletter