ITHACA, N.Y. — A resolution is in the works that would make it clear that Ithaca is a “safe city” for undocumented immigrants.
Being a “safe city” would essentially mean people who are undocumented would not have to fear being reported to U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement by city employees for using city services like making complaints about housing, getting marriage licenses or reporting a crime.
“Undocumented individuals are much more likely to live in poverty, they are much more likely to be victims of exploitation, they’re much more likely to live in sub-standard housing and we need to make sure as a city in terms of things that we can address, we do address these things,” Cynthia Brock, 1st Ward, said.
At the City Administration Committee meeting Wednesday, a resolution was proposed, but tabled. While the sentiment among committee members was supportive of such a measure, most agreed language could be clearer in the resolution.
At the same meeting, a resolution was passed urging New York to issue licenses to state residents regardless of immigration status.
There was an uncommon crowd at the committee meeting Wednesday. Five members of the public spoke in favor of the “safe cities” resolution.
Raymond Craib, associated professor of history at Cornell University, said everyone is a migrant in the U.S., unless they are Native American.
“At some point in your past, your ancestors were vulnerable,” Craib said. “They were unsafe, they were unsafe, they were uneasy with what was happening with them where they were and I think you should consider how you would want them to be treated when you think about this proposal.”
The resolution, as it was presented Wednesday, would reaffirm Ithaca as a “safe city” and extend protections already provided to refugees to people who are undocumented “so that all may live without fear that forcible deportation may result from everyday interactions with City law enforcement, staff, committee members or elected officials, allowing all to live fully and productively as members of the Ithaca community.”
In the State of the City Address earlier this month, Mayor Svante Myrick addressed President-elect Donald Trump and his administration, calling it “openly hostile.”
Though Myrick said he has discouraged Common Council from addressing national issues while he has been mayor, he said it is essential for Common Council to stand strong for the people in the Ithaca community who will not be represented in the White House for the next four years.
Hundreds of cities across the U.S. are considered “sanctuary cities.” In Trump’s “Contract With The American Voter,” he released in October, he promised to cancel all funding to sanctuary cities.
Millions of undocumented immigrants are in the United States, Carlos Gutierrez, who works at the Tompkins County Workers’ Center, said. Those immigrants have fled from their countries likely due to persecution, war or a lack of opportunities, Gutierrez said.
“There are millions of undocumented immigrants in the United States who for whether political, economic, persecution reasons, they come to the U.S. and for the lack of basically future in their own countries,” Gutierrez said.
Esmeralda Arrizón-Palomera, a Ph.D candidate and undocumented student at Cornell, said she supported any policy that is pro-immigrant that is more than a “tepid” statement of support.
“I think this is a critical moment for all of us,” Arrizón-Palomera said. “It is not a time in which we can afford to imply our commitment or to draw somewhat contentious distinctions between immigrants in this country and I’m thinking specifically about a part in one of the resolutions that will be discussed later today.”
The draft resolution directs that otherwise provided by law, no city employee can take action that would “reasonably be anticipated” to subject an undocumented individual to arrest by ICE.
However, there is an exception if the undocumented individual falls within “Priority 1” of the Homeland Security Priority Enforcement Program, which includes people considered a threat to national security.
As an example, Brock said if an individual is working in a restaurant and living in housing provided by their employer that has health or safety issues, and they’re afraid to reach out to building department.
“We need to state very clearly, more than I hope, more than just a public statement, but to actually put it into our employment policies that at no point would a city staff person turn around and reach out to ICE,” Brock said.
The proposed resolution outlined Ithaca’s history as being a sanctuary city.
On July 10, 1985, Common Council declared that Ithaca would be a “Sanctuary City” for Salvadoran and Guatemalan refugees during the El Salvadoran and Guatemalan refugee crisis. The sanctuary status was created to “protect and maintain the human rights for Ithaca’s citizens and for all who come within its borders,” the resolution states.
As a response to the increase in enforcement of immigration laws in New York and elsewhere, the resolution states that in 2007 Common Council encouraged the Ithaca Police Department to continue its practice of non-involvement in enforcement of federal immigration laws. The resolution in 2007 further requested that the IPD treat enforcement of federal immigration laws as a function of federal law enforcement agencies, except when specifically requested to be involved.
The resolution has been tabled until the committee’s next meeting in February.