Kent to vote on sanctuary city status in November

View of downtown Kent.

Voters in the November general election will be able to decide if Kent could become among the first Ohio cities to declare sanctuary status.

The Kent City Council voted in July to have the initiative on the ballot this fall. If enacted, Kent would limit its cooperation with federal authorities attempting to enforce immigration law. The intent is to protect those in the country illegally from fears of deportation.

The amendment was proposed through a petition created by Kent Citizens for Democracy, which surpassed the needed 10 percent of voters to get an amendment before city council.

“The very recognizable title of sanctuary city makes it clear that there will be that trust,” said Lee Brooker, a member of Kent Citizens for Democracy.

Despite city council’s support of immigration, some believe that’s not enough.

“To have policies of non-cooperation with federal immigration agencies in place without the title of sanctuary city would be like having a building with an emergency exit with no sign over the door identifying it as such,” Brooker said. “People need to know.”

The bill is mostly symbolic, and does not provide tangible benefits to immigrants.

Supporters of the bill argue the sanctuary city status encourages immigrants to report more crimes, use health services and enroll their children in school because they would feel safe in their communities.

“It’s a form of trust,” Brooker said.

If Kent’s voters choose to amend the city charter, Kent would join a small group of communities practicing sanctuary policies.

Cities such as Columbus practice sanctuary policies without the name. On Feb. 9, the Columbus City Council put Mayor Andrew Ginther’s executive order into effect, which offers a variety of protections to undocumented immigrants. As of March, the city of Oberlin updated their sanctuary policies to reflect the current atmosphere of immigration enforcement on a federal and local level.

Opponents of the ballot initiative are adamant that if Kent were to adopt such language to the city charter, it would be followed by lost federal funds.

“There have been threats made by government entities that any city that participates in sanctuary city (policies), which violates the law, might be looked at unfavorably when it comes to getting funds,” said John Kuhar, a Kent city councilman who opposed the ballot initiative. “Kent gets an awful lot of funds.”

The concern was enough to prompt all but one Kent City Council member to vote in favor of adding “not endorsed by city council” language to the city ordinance. Since Issue 9 met the ballot initiative requirements to appear on the November ballot, the city council must allow the issue to appear before its constituents.

The added language, in theory, would deter any threats of withheld funds, but Joe Becker, a member of Kent Citizens Against Becoming a Sanctuary City, disagreed.

Becker said it is foolish to place the responsibility of sanctuary status on residents. “The federal government isn’t going to care, they’re going to cut them off,” he said.

Becker said the added language would make no “difference” in distinguishing the Kent residents’ actions to city council, but understood the council’s concern.

“They’re afraid of losing money,” Becker said.

Recent rulings in select California cities, as well as Chicago, suggest withholding federal funds from sanctuary cities is unconstitutional.

“It’s bluster, and it’s meant to frighten people who depend on this money,” said Steven Volk, a Latin American history professor at Oberlin College. “I’m not a lawyer. … but it’s simply unconstitutional to deprive a city of that money.”

Among other issues, the influx of undocumented immigrants with criminal tendencies is one of Becker’s concerns. Becker denies he is against immigration. He said he wants individuals to be held accountable for their actions and is frustrated that criminals could take advantage of Kent’s policies and elude law enforcement.

“Criminals and people who commit terror look for places to blend in. If they know they can do bad at a sanctuary city, well hell, let’s send our ugly ones to do the crime in a sanctuary city,” Becker said.

Kuhar shared similar concerns about Kent becoming a popular location for undocumented immigrants.

“I feel that everyone should go through the proper channels to enter the U.S. just as my ancestors did. You should not be able to come in as an illegal and take away jobs, welfare, medical and etc. without paying the price,” Kuhar said. “I feel that these people are criminals.”

The community will have the chance to vote on sanctuary city status for Kent on Nov. 7 in the general election.

Rachel Duthie is the features editor. Contact her at [email protected]

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