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Lancaster County commissioners pass ‘non-sanctuary’ resolution as city officials stand behind ‘Welcome City’ ordinance

  • By Jade Campos/LNP | LancasterOnline
Members of CASA gather outside the Lancaster County Government Center after attending the Lancaster County commissioners' meeting held on March 20, 2024.

 Nathan Wilson / LNP | LancasterOnline

Members of CASA gather outside the Lancaster County Government Center after attending the Lancaster County commissioners' meeting held on March 20, 2024.

In a 2-1 vote along party lines, Lancaster County commissioners Wednesday passed a resolution supporting cooperation with federal immigration authorities and urging Lancaster city leaders to repeal a “Welcoming City” ordinance passed last month.

The resolution “declaring Lancaster County a non-sanctuary county” makes no change to how county government operates. It reinforces that county employees, including the district attorney and sheriff offices, will continue to comply with federal immigration laws.

The two Republican commissioners, Josh Parsons and Ray D’Agostino, have been outspoken critics of the city’s Feb. 28 ordinance that prevents city officials and employees, including police, from asking about a person’s immigration status or accessing information related to immigration status unless compelled to by state or federal law.

City leaders say the ordinance formalizes what had been an informal policy in place since Mayor Rick Gray’s administration, which ended in 2018.

At Wednesday’s commissioners meeting, Parsons said that doesn’t matter.

“There is a difference between having an informal policy, which we may not like, and taking a formal vote to authorize your police department to ignore the law. That has major consequences,” he said.

Mayor Danene Sorace in a statement Wednesday said the commissioners’ conflation of the ordinance with sanctuary measures approved elsewhere is “misguided and inaccurate.” Sorace said the city will continue to comply with federal immigration enforcement when requested.

“We want people, regardless of immigration status, who have been victims of crime, witnessed a crime, who need a smoke detector, have an issue with water or sewer, or need some other City service, to not fear contacting City staff,” Sorace said.

The city also will continue to comply with immigration detainers, which are official requests from ICE to hold a person until the agency can take them into custody, according to city spokesperson Amber Strazzo Righter.

City Council member Jaime Arroyo, who led the effort to adopt the ordinance, said the city has no plans to go back on its policy.

‘Your neighbors, your friends and your coworkers’

The county’s “non-sanctuary” resolution states that illegal immigration could overwhelm the county’s social services and includes language warning that migrants who are in Lancaster County illegally are responsible for a rise in sex trafficking, drug crimes and theft.

Many people who offered public comments at Wednesday’s meeting reiterated concerns about rising crime rates and an influx of immigrants who will dry up limited resources.

“When I heard about the vote to turn Lancaster city to a sanctuary city, I thought to myself, ‘What is going on? Who would do this to our community and bring in illegals that we know nothing about?’” said Shelli McWilliams of Martic Township. “It’s like going to the prison in Lancaster city and saying ‘OK guys, ladies, you’re set free. We’re welcoming you with open arms.’”

A 2020 report by the National Academy of Sciences found that sanctuary policies, whether they are called that or not, have no effect on crime rates. Arroyo said the ordinance is intended to encourage more people to cooperate with local law enforcement.

Those who spoke against the county’s resolution mainly pulled from personal experiences with immigration, including Adam Hosey of Manheim Township who immigrated to Lancaster County when he was 2 through adoption.

“I just want everyone to know who is listening here that there is a home for you in Lancaster County. Can you imagine what it would take for someone to bring themselves, their family, to a county that hates them despite all of that, knowing that resolutions like this exist?” Hosey said.

Daniel Alvalle, Pennsylvania director of advocacy group CASA, encouraged the commissioners to rethink the resolution. Alvalle was a part of the push last spring to formally adopt city policy as law after residents shared negative experiences with local police and ICE at a City Council meeting.

Parsons and D’Agostino stressed that they support legal immigration. Their resolution’s text opens with a recognition of the county’s “rich and august nearly 300 year history as a

place where people from all over the world sought religious, political and economic freedom and

legally settled here to make our country and county a better place.”

In casting the lone vote against the resolution, Democratic Commissioner Alice Yoder echoed city leaders’ comments about their focus on ensuring undocumented individuals can access city services without worrying about being reported to immigration authorities.

“The language used (in the resolution) is to make you afraid and believe undocumented people are dangerous, but really, these folks are your neighbors, your friends and your coworkers,” she said. “Remember, these are people that are fleeing their countries due to war, famine and poverty to come to the United States for a better life, so how can we think about supporting them?”

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