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Lansing drops sanctuary city status after council reverses vote

Apr 13, 2017

At a special meeting Wednesday night, the Lansing city council voted 5-2 to rescind a largely symbolic resolution calling Lansing a “sanctuary city.”

Kathie Dunbar was one of two council members who voted to keep the largely symbolic resolution on the books. She said she was embarrassed by the council’s decision to rescind the measure. The original resolution to become a sanctuary city had been unanimously approved nine days earlier.

“I don’t know why this just happened,” Dunbar said after the vote. “I’m secure with where my vote was and I do not know what happened, but nobody really explained why they flipped.”

Several council members were concerned that Lansing could lose federal funding by naming itself a sanctuary city, even if the designation would not have changed existing city policies about how local law enforcement officials cooperate with federal immigration agencies.

In January, President Trump issued an executive order to withhold federal funding from so-called sanctuary cities. The term itself has no legal definition.

Dunbar said the potential for Lansing lose $6.5 million in federal funding was nothing new, adding that the issue had been discussed for weeks before council originally passed the resolution.

The council’s vote to rescind the sanctuary city resolution has no effect on the standing executive order by Lansing Mayor Virgil Bernero, which directs city law enforcement officials not to ask about any person’s immigration status, except as required by law.

City Council President Patricia Spitzley originally supported the sanctuary city measure, but reversed course and voted to rescind it Wednesday.

“I was prepared to vote again for the resolution without the sanctuary status, but it wasn’t brought up [for a vote],” Spitzley said.

Council members Judi Brown Clark, and Carol Wood had called for the special meeting of council.

A letter from the Michigan and Lansing regional chambers of commerce also asked the council to remove the sanctuary city designation because of the risk of losing federal funding.

"[The letter] didn’t have an effect on me,” Spitzley said. “A large amount of people have called asking me to review what I did by voting to reaffirm the welcoming city resolution with the sanctuary status.”

Before voting to rescind the measure, council listened to more than two and a half hours of public comment. The crowd appeared to be evenly split.

Advocates of the sanctuary city resolution said naming Lansing a sanctuary, while symbolic, was still important to ease the fears of undocumented immigrants in the community.

Critics said by labeling itself a sanctuary, Lansing was flouting federal law.