No one is going to nominate the Lansing City Council for a profile in courage.
After declaring itself a sanctuary city last week, the body has announced a meeting to rescind that declaration. It’s scheduled for 6:30 tonight in the Council chambers on the 10th floor of City Hall.
Judi Brown Clarke, an at-large Councilwoman and mayoral candidate, issued a press statement Tuesday in which she shared credit with Councilwoman At- Large Carol Wood for the special session. She said the term “sanctuary city” had become a “negative distraction” that “undermined our ability to state how we embrace our community and remain fiscally diligent.”
Lansing Mayor Virg Bernero also issued a statement reasserting the city would “resist” turning Lansing officials into “de facto immigration agents.” That followed his executive order last week to the same effect.
The move comes after the city has been buffeted by criticism from conservatives, including U.S. Rep. Mike Bishop, R-Rochester, who blasted the action as “reckless.” But the biggest game changer may have been the combined pressure of the Lansing and Michigan chambers of commerce.
Last Thursday, their leaders wrote the Council “respectfully” requesting the body amend the resolution to remove the reference to “sanctuary city.”
Tim Daman, president and CEO of the Lansing Regional Chamber, said Mayor Virg Bernero’s executive order took “welcoming city right up to the line without using the term sanctuary city,” but the City Council went too far by amending a Welcoming City Resolution to declare Lansing a sanctuary city, which “potentially puts the federal and wtate funding at risk" and expressed “full support” for Bernero’s executive order. The order says Lansing officials, including police, are prohibited inquiries about immigration status, except as required by court order or law. It also says Lansing Police can’t detain a person solely on a federal immigration detainer without a valid judicial warrant accompanying it. And it prohibits officials from reaching out to U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement to identify a person except in cases of a “serious crime” investigation.
The City Council resolution was essentially icing on the cake. Bernero’s order, which never mentions sanctuary city, is what could land the city on the federal government’s list of sanctuary jurisdictions, not the sanctuary city declaration. A review of February’s detainer reports from ICE, the latest available, shows that municipalities have been listed specifically for refusing to honor ICE detainers. That list could serve as the basis of the President Donald Trump’s clawback against the sanctuary city movement and result in the suspension of federal dollars to those areas.
Here’s the thing on those sanctuary jurisdictions: the federal government still has not defined what constitutes one, at least according to a federal court filing in a case brought by Santa Clara County, Calif., challenging Trump’s executive order.
Moreover, the concern expressed by the chambers that Lansing is in danger of losing $6.5 million appears to be significantly overstated. A better estimate is about $3.3 million. Here’s why:
U.S. Attorney General Jeff Sessions acknowledged the funding currently at risk will be U.S. Justice Department grants under 8 U.S.C. Section 1373, a provision of federal immigration law.
Bernero’s executive order specifically states his order is not intended to or shouldn’t be construed to limit activities mandated by Section 1373.
Additionally, federal court rulings require federal grant restrictions be related to the grant purpose. In the last budget year, about $3.2 million, just under half of the supposedly threatened federal funding, came from departments other than Justice.
While mayoral candidate Brown Clarke has made her position clear, opponent Andy Schor said he didn’t have an opinion on the special meeting and resolution to rescind last week’s action.
He said he is “going to watch and follow” the meeting to see what the logic and intention of the resolution are.
To rescind the resolution, Council will need to garner five votes. It appears Councilwoman At-Large Kathie Dunbar, Fourth Ward Councilwoman Jessica Yorko and Second Ward Councilwoman Tina Houghton will hold fast to their support for the sanctuary city resolution. Wood and Brown Clarke are likely to be joined by Third Ward Councilman Adam Hussain and First Ward Coun cilwoman Jody Washington, who were both absent for the April 3 vote on the resolution.
That leaves Council President Patricia Spitzley, who has said during the 10-week sanctuary city debate that she was uncomfortable because the term was ill-defined. She is a likely yes since she voted against the sanctuary city amendment last week and exercised her authority as president to grant Brown Clarke and Wood’s request for a special meeting. But she did vote last week for the Welcoming City Resolution that included the amendment to call Lansing a sanctuary city.
If she joins with Wood and Brown Clarke, the resolution will likely go down, 5-3. But if she stands on her April 3 vote, the effort will fail on a tie, 4 to 4.
If the resolution passes the Council tonight, it faces a final hurdle. According to Lansing City Clerk Chris Swope, the mayor has the authority to veto it, which would take six votes to overcome. Given that Houghton, Yorko and Dunar have steadfastly backed sanctuary city status throughout the months of debate, that seems unlikely.
Bernero is playing the veto question close to the vest. He’s mum on whether he will take the action.
As for the Council’s special meeting, the mayor was uncharacteristically blaise.
“City Council’s recent statement of principle on immigration policy is commendable and defensible, but they are an independent legislative body that must answer to the voters for their actions.”