Feb. 21, 2017
City Council voted unanimously to maintain Oberlin’s status as a sanctuary city on Tuesday. Resolution R17-04 CMS, which received a 7-0 vote of approval, reaffirms Oberlin’s commitment to refrain from voluntary participation in federal immigration policy. On a practical level, that means the Oberlin Police Department will not inquire into the citizenship status of crime victims, witnesses, or residents who call the City staff for assistance.
For residents, Resolution R17 is a big — if not expected — win, dating back to 2009 when the City’s sanctuary status was originally outlined. While the updated version of the resolution is a largely symbolic gesture, reaffirming rather than rewriting policy, its importance should not be understated.
“What Oberlin did in 2009 was to very vocally say, we choose not to endorse federal policy,” said councilperson Bryan Burgess. “All the other cities in Ohio seem to be silent on the issue. But we’ve decided to take a stand.”
February 21 is truly a date to remember in the Oberlin community, but to understand the extent of its significance, one must understand what it was drawn out of: a history that certainly does not start in, but that owes much to, September 15, 2003.
Sept. 15, 2003
In response to the Patriot Act—an Act of Congress which, among other things, encouraged local law enforcement to cooperate with federal immigration in the apprehension of undocumented immigrants—the Oberlin City Council joined more than 150 cities and communities in enacting Resolution R03-15 CMS.
Approved just two years after 9/11, Resolution R03-15 CMS urged “the Oberlin City Manager and his staff to refrain from voluntarily participating in enforcing provisions of the USA Patriot Act and related executive orders, regulations, and actions.”
July 23, 2008
Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) conducted a raid on the former Casa Fiesta, where Lupita’s Mexican Restaurant is now located. The raid targeted several other Casa Fiesta restaurants in the towns of Ashland, Fremont, Norwalk, Oregon, Sandusky, Vermilion, and Youngstown, resulting in a total of 58 arrests.
Approximately 100 members of the Oberlin community came together to oppose the deportations and demand that ICE “Stop the Raids.”
Oct. 30, 2008
Within the next 100 days, ICE had raided Casa Fiesta again, resulting in the arrest and deportation of two employees. In response, local residents presented Resolution R08-14 CMS to the Human Relations Commission in support of making Oberlin a sanctuary city.
Jan. 20, 2009
On January 20, 2009 Resolution R08-14 CMS was, after three readings, adopted. In a memo to the Oberlin City Council, Oberlin City Law Director Jon D. Clark writes of the resolution’s accomplishments:
“First, the resolution provided that City services shall not be denied to any person on the basis of citizenship. Second, it provided that inquiry into the immigration status of crime victims, witnesses or others who call City staff for assistance will not be made. Lastly, it provided that the City had elected not to participate in certain voluntary agreements authorized under the Immigration and Nationality Act for the enforcement of immigration laws.”
Speaking to the legality of the resolution, co-chair of the Human Relations Commission Ray English said, “This resolution opposes the spirit of the president’s executive order, it does not oppose the letter of the executive order. There is nothing in this resolution that would either prohibit or hinder the enforcement of federal immigration law.”
Nov. 16, 2016
In response to the Trump administration’s campaign promises, Oberlin students and community members joined approximately 100 colleges across the country in marching for sanctuary campus status.
Preceding the marches, Shelley Lee, Gina Perez, and Wendy Kozol (Comparative American Studies professors), RaShelle Peck and Pam Brooks (Africana Studies professors), and Julio Reyes (Latinx Student Life Coordinator) submitted a petition to Oberlin College’s administration advocating for sanctuary campus status. Over 2,400 students, staff, faculty and alumni sign the petition, which urged campus officials to refuse compliance with ICE and prohibit campus security from inquiring about immigration status.
Jan. 25, 2017
Six days into his term, President Donald Trump issues two executive orders. Shadowed by what his administration refers to as a “Muslim Ban,” a second executive order, “Enhancing Public Safety in the Interior of the United States,” passes unchallenged. The order threatens that “sanctuary jurisdictions [will not be] eligible to receive Federal grants, except as deemed necessary for law enforcement purposes by the Attorney General or the Secretary.”
However, as Mary Kilpatrick with Cleveland.com writes, “It’s unlikely that Trump could take away all federal money from these cities. Federal courts require that the cuts in federal aid be related to whatever issue the government is trying to address. So, the government could take away law enforcement money in an attempt to get sanctuary cities to help enforce immigration law, but it could not withhold money for road improvements.”
Even so, Councilperson Kelley Singleton reported that only $500,000 of Oberlin City’s $36.2 million budget is given to the city through the combination of direct and indirect federal funding per year.
Feb. 6, 2016
Newly-elected Rep. Candice Keller (R-Middletown) proposes a bill to prohibit sanctuary city status in Ohio and hold elected officials responsible for crimes committed by undocumented immigrants in their cities.
Under the proposed bill, elected officials could be subject to fourth-degree felony for crimes committed in their city by undocumented immigrants, punishable by up to 18 months in prison and $5,000 fine.
If the bill is enacted into law, Ohio will be the first state to impose criminal charges on sanctuary city officials.
Feb. 7, 2017
Ohio Treasurer Josh Mandel—who intends to run under the Republican ticket in 2018 against Senator Sherod Brown (D-OH)—publicly sponsors Keller’s bill.
At the heart of Mandel’s campaign is a hyper-masculine appeal whose language resembles that of the Trump campaign. “I will never back down from our enemies. I will never succumb to political correctness… That means no sanctuary cities.”
Feb. 21, 2017
Regardless of the fact that Oberlin’s immigration policy is recognized by the Oberlin Police department, that it has been unanimously upheld by the Oberlin City Council, and that it is the culmination of over a decade of community and campus activism, what may in the end prove most threatening to Oberlin’s sanctuary status is our own lack of vigilance.
It’s unclear what state and federal legislation we can expect to emerge under the Trump administration in the coming years, but we can be sure that there will be many opportunities for Oberlin’s community to come together and assert its unconventional place as a sanctuary city in Ohio.
As Gina Perez, co-author of the 2016 sanctuary campus petition, writes, “Today’s sanctuary city movement relies on people to be brave, to take a moral stand, and to resist and challenge unjust laws and customs that blame and harm the most vulnerable in society.”
Contact Editor-In-Chief Lucas Fortney at firstname.lastname@example.org.