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More Lancaster County municipalities adopt ‘nonsanctuary’ resolutions to support law enforcement

  • By Jade Campos/LNP | LancasterOnline
Columbia Borough offices.

 LNP | LancasterOnline

Columbia Borough offices.

Some Lancaster County municipalities are following the lead of the county’s two Republican county commissioners in declaring themselves “nonsanctuary” communities, three months after the commissioners pushed back against Lancaster city’s “Welcome City” ordinance.

Other municipalities have dismissed the resolutions as frivolous.

On March 20, GOP county commissioners Josh Parsons and Ray D’Agostino passed a resolution reaffirming that county government would cooperate with federal immigration authorities and urging Lancaster city leaders to repeal its ordinance. Democratic Commissioner Alice Yoder voted against the resolution.

The resolution doesn’t change how county government operates; it merely reinforces that county employees, including the offices of the district attorney and sheriff, will continue to comply with federal immigration laws. Parsons and D’Agostino put the resolution on the table to push back against the city’s policy, which restricts employees and officials from inquiring about people’s immigration status.

At least five municipalities have passed nonsanctuary resolutions since February, and three more are debating adopting their own language to declare their support of immigration law enforcement. More are likely to take up discussion of the issue in the near future, as residents ask local leaders to consider the move.

Columbia Borough was the first municipality to adopt a nonsanctuary resolution, making the decision a week before the county issued its statement.

Borough Council President Heather Zink said the point isn’t to change anything local police and officials do now. Instead, these resolutions are meant to address concerns that the city’s policy will trickle down into their communities. She said the borough has not dealt with any immigration concerns.

“People are seeing more and more problems from Lancaster city come into our town,” Zink said, referring to an upward trend of shootings in the borough. “The fear is that we’re already seeing the city’s problems spilling into our community, and we didn’t want more of the problems based on their policy to come out because Columbia gets a bad rap. We have for a long time.”

Zink said council wanted to take a stand on the issue because they worried undocumented immigrants would come to the borough after finding few housing opportunities in the city.

Since Columbia’s declaration, Pequea, West Earl, East Cocalico and West Cocalico townships have adopted similar resolutions.

City officials have pushed back against claims that its policy means Lancaster is a “sanctuary” city. The policy states city officials, such as police and elected officials, cannot ask a person about their immigration status without a justified reason, such as its relevance to a criminal case.

Republicans have criticized the policy, claiming it puts the city at odds with state and federal law. City Councilman Jaime Arroyo, who led the push for the ordinance, has said that is not true. The city will continue to comply with state and federal law. The policy, Arroyo said, is to encourage people to pursue city services without fear.

“It’s not about ‘How do we get people here?’ It’s about ‘How do we keep people here?’ ” Arroyo said in March. “Immigrants are coming here; how do we keep them here so they can thrive?”

Arroyo noted the ordinance codified existing city policy that had been in place across multiple mayoral administrations. He called nonsanctuary statements “ignorant” because, he said, local leaders should be welcoming immigrants.

Growing interest

Harry Lehman, chairman of the Pequea Township Board of Supervisors, said residents brought the issue to their attention. He said he’s not opposed to immigration but emphasized his belief that it must be done legally.

Currently, the Pequea police chief is connecting with immigration enforcement officials to share their intent to cooperate with and support them however they can, Lehman said.

Lehman said he’s surprised more leaders have not adopted nonsanctuary resolutions, but he anticipates more will soon.

“A lot of times it takes a couple of residents to kick-start it,” Lehman said. “Once you get down in our turf here and get down here into Providence … you’re in a totally different world.”

East Hempfield, East Lampeter and Conoy townships are now considering requests to adopt their own resolutions.

In Conoy, a group of residents, including Supervisor Stephen Mohr, have chipped in to put up signs that declare Conoy a nonsanctuary township, though no official language has been adopted yet.

Mohr said the township has not dealt with immigration issues in the past, but he believes it’s important to address the issue now.

“These people get too lackadaisical and assume (immigration concerns) will go away, but I don’t think it will go away,” Mohr said. “It’s no doubt they’re coming, they’re already here. … It’s a matter of where they find the biggest welcome.”

Not all public officials see immigration as a problem.

Mount Joy Township supervisors turned down a resident’s request three weeks ago to consider a nonsanctuary resolution, and Manheim Township officials did the same. Police already cooperate with immigration officials, they said, and have not reported any concerns with immigration, so what’s the point?

“I try to avoid resolutions that are somewhat political in nature or throw political footballs, and really, for me, serving as a commissioner, the job is to deal with the issues at hand and not deal with more controversial things,” Manheim Township Commissioner John Bear said at an April 8 meeting. “It’s more about making a statement that isn’t about really addressing a real problem. There isn’t a problem here in Manheim Township.”

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