The city of Orlando is considering a resolution that would have the City Council and Mayor Buddy Dyer formally declare their policy that police and other city officials not get involved in immigration matters, including a policy against questioning people whether their status is legal or not.
The resolution would state what already is the city’s policy. Under Dyer and Police Chief John Mina, police and other officials are not supposed to inquire about whether a traffic stop driver, a suspect, a victim, a witness, or anyone else interacting with city officials is a citizen or properly documented immigrant.
But that’s not on enforceable paper.
And while a resolution would put it on paper, it wouldn’t make it law.
The resolution proposal, pushed by Dyer and others in recent weeks, is a compromise offer between the city’s informal policies that essentially make it unofficially a safe city for undocumented residents, and immigration activists that have been pushing last summer for an ordinance that would make it law.
The debate in Orlando, at least in all public ways, is not about whether the city should be assisting federal authorities in identifying and detaining undocumented immigrants. It’s about how far the city wants to go in rejecting that approach.
A coalition of activists that includes 35 social justice, labor, and progressive groups and is part of a national movement, has been pushing for an ordinance since last summer, with rallies on the City Hall steps, art protests, and meetings and negotiations with city officials.
“We’ve looked for middle ground, a resolution, which is passed in a similar manner as an ordinance, to supplement the policy,” said Deputy City Attorney Jody Litchford.
“But frankly, unfortunately, we are not in agreement,” she added.
Litchford and others, including Dyer’s Senior Advisor Lori Pampilo Harris, argue that Orlando already is doing everything in practice that the advocates want. The city neither questions people about their status, nor detains them — even at requests from the U.S. Border Patrol or Immigration and Customs Enforcement.
But too many of the undocumented immigrants living in Orlando still remain fearful of coming out of the shadows, even as a witness to crime, the activists argue.
If Orlando wants to make undocumented residents comfortable enough to work with city officials, to not fear encounters, it needs something more than a policy. It needs a law, argued Curtis Hierro, organizing director of the Central Florida AFL-CIO and one of the leaders of the Trust Ordinance Coalition that has been pushing Orlando for an ordinance.
Hierro insisted they coalition is far from done with its effort.
“The reason we’re pushing for an ordinance is it is the strongest act a city can take to codify policy, something with real teeth,” Hierro said.
Without it, Hierro said, there have been at least isolated incidents of police officers or others asking people about immigration status, Hierro said. Word spreads. Trust erodes. People stay in the shadows. That’s why the ordinance they have drafted and offered the city that’s called the “Trust Ordinance.”
But an ordinance, besides being an inappropriate way to deal with city policies, Litchford said, also opens up liability issues for the city. That may start with threats from President Donald Trump‘s administration that it intends to reduce federal grants to cities that are formally sanctuary cities.
The city is offering not just the resolution, but a communication effort, an outreach program that would explicitly try to spread the word that city police and other officials would not do anything to “out” people who came here without visas, or overstayed their visas.