By CULLAN STAACK/Montana State News
A group of immigration activists proposed an ordinance to make Bozeman a sanctuary city at Monday’s City Commission meeting. The proposition, presented in a drafted resolution by the group, was unexpected and caught the Bozeman city commissioners off-guard.
A sanctuary city most generally means a city has adopted a policy of protecting illegal aliens, whether known or undetected, from the threat of prosecution for violating federal immigration laws as well as providing all citizens access to city services regardless of immigration status.
Sanctuary cities also bar local law enforcement from asking a person about his/her immigration status after witnessing or reporting a crime and are forbidden from cooperating with federal authorities in deporting undocumented immigrants arrested in non-felony crimes, according to the Bozeman Daily Chronicle.
The activists’ desire for law enforcement to not focus their efforts on tracking and deporting undocumented immigrants and instead just on the safety of its citizens is at the forefront of the issue. The group organizer, Margarita McLarty, said on Monday, “Justice cannot be served when a victim of domestic violence or a witness of a shooting does not call police because she fears that doing so will attract the attention of officials who wish to deport her family members,” according to the Chronicle.
The city commission did not take any action on the issue at Monday’s meeting, instead opting to look into the request and mull the merits of the measure. Billie Love, chairwoman of the Gallatin County Republican party, did offer her immediate reaction to the proposal, saying, “I think Bozeman should be very welcoming to all immigrants who want to live here as long as they go through the process and do it legally,” according to KBZK.com.
Bozeman Mayor Carson Taylor weighed in on the issue on Tuesday, according to KTVH.com, highlighting his concern for the reported reluctance to use local police, saying, “Everybody should feel safe if they’re reporting a crime, a victim of a crime, anything that affects the overall safety of the community. I don’t want people to fail to go to the police because they’re afraid that their immigration status will come into play.”
There has been widespread local support as well as opposition to the controversial proposal so far, with many citizens voicing strong opinions for both sides of the argument. ABC FOX Montana reports that Carly Nicole, a Bozeman mother of an adopted immigrant son, considers the move toward a sanctuary city to be close to her heart, saying, “I see becoming a sanctuary city as kind of taking the symbolic stance that we’re united with people who have different and difficult experiences.”
Others see it differently. Kris Hanson, a local MSU student and current Bozeman resident, says, “The topic of making Bozeman a sanctuary city is certainly interesting. I do not feel that the law enforcement in Bozeman seeks out to arrest possible illegal immigrants seeking help. There are other local issues that require more attention.”
Police Chief Steve Crawford agrees with Mr. Hanson, explaining on Tuesday that the police department’s current policy is already against looking into someone’s citizenship status after seeking help unless it’s part of a larger federal investigation, according to the Chronicle. Crawford says, “Immigration enforcement is not one of our primary responsibilities. We’re not doing the work that they’re concerned that we’re doing.”
Apparently satisfied that local law enforcement is already abiding by sanctuary city guidelines, Mayor Carson Taylor on Thursday said Bozeman will not pursue a sanctuary city policy, citing the term being too divisive as well as the city having to worry about President Donald Trump taking action against the move, namely withholding federal funds from the city.
“We have always been a welcoming city and an inclusive city and have always celebrated diversity. We see no need to change anything at this point in time,” Taylor said.
In order for the sanctuary city policy proposal to make it onto the city commission agenda, it must either be supported by three of the city’s five elected commissioners or just by the mayor himself. According to KBZK.com, there would first be a public hearing on the issue where everyone would get the chance to share their opinion before it would go to a vote between the city commissioners. Bozeman would be the first designated sanctuary city in Montana.
– edited by Jordan Sparr