Federal lawmakers and presidential candidates would rather yell about illegal immigration than muster the political will and public resources to deal with it comprehensively and decisively, let alone humanely.
Amid that noise, Sedgwick County officials are handling the requests they receive from U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement with admirable respect for the law and taxpayers’ money.
Sedgwick County used to hold jail inmates suspected of being in the country illegally for an additional 24 to 48 hours, allowing ICE time to take custody. But after federal court decisions, including one about the jailing of an alleged illegal alien who turned out to be a U.S. citizen, the county last year started declining ICE requests to hold inmates suspected of immigration violations unless the request is accompanied by a judicial court order or arrest warrant.
For their attempts to follow the law and avoid lawsuits, Sedgwick, Butler, Harvey, Shawnee, Finney and Johnson counties have been irresponsibly and inaccurately labeled as “sanctuary cities” by the Center for Immigration Studies, an organization based in Washington, D.C.
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As such, they’ve been lumped in with the jurisdictions accused by Rep. Kevin Yoder, R-Overland Park, of “giving aid and comfort to violent felons” and threatened with the loss of Department of Homeland Security funds. Yoder’s punitive amendment to target so-called sanctuary cities and counties cleared a House committee last month, attached to an annual appropriations bill.
Also in July, the full House passed the Enforce the Law for Sanctuary Cities Act, which would withhold some Justice Department funding to state or local governments deemed uncooperative with ICE. Yoder and the other three Republicans who represent Kansas, including Rep. Mike Pompeo, R-Wichita, voted for the bill. Dubbed the “Donald Trump Act” by Democrats, it seems an attempt to shift blame for Congress’ failure to deal with illegal immigration onto local jurisdictions, as well as to join Trump in politicizing the slaying of a San Francisco woman July 1.
The alleged killer was an undocumented immigrant who’d been convicted of seven felonies and deported five times – not someone who should have been on any U.S. city street on that or any other day.
But unlike San Francisco, which has passed city ordinances restricting local cooperation with federal immigration authorities, local law enforcement officials in Kansas are abiding by court rulings, and trying not to violate people’s due-process rights or be held liable for wrongful imprisonment.
And as Johnson County Sheriff Frank Denning asked in the Topeka Capital-Journal: “To withhold federal dollars but not fix the federal problem, what good is that? They’re going to punish us because ... we’re not willing to violate the law.”
That Wichita is no “sanctuary city” is further confirmed by advocates for the immigrant community, which doesn’t view the city as welcoming to undocumented residents, let alone as a legal safe haven.
Upset about illegal immigration in Kansas? Call on Congress to do something substantive about what is a federal issue, and to stop threatening and otherwise making life harder for local sheriffs.
For the editorial board, Rhonda Holman