The East Lansing City Council passed a motion declaring the city a “sanctuary city” in a 3-1 vote on Tuesday, Jan. 10. The vote followed a delay last month, after requests were made by the council to the city's legal team on effects the status could have and how the status would differ from East Lansing's current "safe haven" status passed in 2017.
The city's Human Rights Commission, later joined by the University Student Commission, passed a resolution last month asking the council to designate East Lansing as a sanctuary city. The designation would mean city officials and law enforcement would not cooperate with federal agents to enforce immigration laws.
Human Rights Commission Chairperson Liz Miller said that while she understands the term “sanctuary city” is not legally binding, the classification offers a structure that allows the city to exercise restraint when federal authorities claim jurisdiction over immigration laws.
“While it’s nice to welcome all people who live, work or travel to our city, it takes more to protect them and their human rights,” Miller said. “Such a designation ensures the city will not discriminate in the availing of city services by the city’s residents, regardless of their immigration status.”
Councilmember George Brookover voted no on the resolution, while Councilmember Dana Watson, Mayor Pro Tem Jessy Gregg and Mayor Ron Bacon voted in favor of the resolution.
Brookover said the resolution and the council's 2017 resolution declaring the city a "safe haven" is the same, particularly regarding the resolution’s impact on law enforcement.
“We haven’t cooperated with immigration authorities since 2017, and I suspect we didn’t cooperate with them before that,” Brookover said. “I don’t think if we told [the police] to enforce those things, they’d really pay much attention to it because it’s a pretty low priority.”
Watson, dissenting, said the “sanctuary city” designation provides impacted communities with assurance — alleviating the chronic stress such communities may face that comes with the risk of being persecuted by authorities.
“Being able to be an example of a city where, possibly, people can take that off their shoulders, it feels right and it feels good,” Watson said. “I love our efforts towards a sense of belonging in our words, in our actions.”
Bacon said the resolution opens a pandora’s box, specifically as it relates to the city’s allocation of resources.
“I’m not much for symbolism, but I am for calls to action. I consider this a call to action,” he said. “Michigan is a sanctuary … and we should be preparing in the first place.”
During the public comment section of the meeting, one community member, who did not provide their full name, said the establishment of East Lansing as a sanctuary city is something the community has been fighting in favor of for years. She said that the small change in wording could have a profound impact on someone’s life.
“It’s not just a change in wording, it’s a change in the dynamic and the outlook that this city has on immigrants and residents and these people that give back so much to the community,” they said. “Who are we to tell them that they can't belong on land that wasn’t ours to begin with?”