White Privilege and Mansplaining

Susanne and I decided to check in with our first Iowa City Council meeting last night as they discussed the possibility of claiming the title “sanctuary city” for immigrants who rightly fear for their safety and the integrity of their families under the upcoming Trump administration. The discussion was a bit disappointing resulting in their stopping short of pursuing the sanctuary city label, but directing the city attorney to draft a resolution for a future meeting that would, in part, deny allocations of local resources to federal immigration enforcement officers.

The major expressed concern that the term “sanctuary city” has no agreed-upon definition and is controversial even in progressive Iowa City because it may suggest (wrongly) that the city would be breaking federal law or harboring dangerous criminals who happen to be immigrants. One councilwoman even used the tired argument that using the label would give a false sense of security to those who might not understand the limitations that local government has. (In other words, immigrants are too dumb to comprehend what the rest of us do!).

Susanne commented that the meeting was a cross between “white privilege and mansplaining.” It certainly had those characteristics. One bright spot was an articulate attorney who expressed his desire to send a strong signal in advance of any actions the federal government might take under a President Trump, given his rhetoric on the campaign trail. He acknowledged the good record of local law enforcement in the past in guarding public safety while not getting involved in immigration policy which is a federal responsibility.

The city attorney made it clear that any request from the Immigration and Custom Enforcement (ICE) for local police to detain people solely on the basis of questionable immigration status can only be in the form of a request and do not bind the city police department or the Johnson County jail. Unless there is a threat to public safety, local law enforcement is quite within its rights to ignore such requests.

The councilman mentioned above who was most concerned about Iowa City sending a message to the Trump administration now pointed out that this was all fine and good given present laws, but feared that such laws may change in the not-too-distant future. “If there was to be a federal law passed like that, saying that we had to help (ICE), then constitutional issues would come into play,” said the city attorney. In other words, the city might refuse on constitutional grounds due to lack of proper warrants, etc.

In the end the council agreed to ask for the resolution clarifying the city’s intent not to allow federal immigration enforcement officers to be assisted by local resources and also to consult University of Iowa law professors in order to be kept informed of any likely change in federal law which would require further assessment of the city’s response.

Overall, I am glad to be in a community where these matters are even being discussed on the highest levels. But I will continue to monitor the progress of the proposed resolution and will likely be back in council chambers for that debate.

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