Council to Consider Sanctuary City Status

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Thursday December 15, 2016

In light of growing diversity in South Burlington and recent actions pursued by neighboring cities, South Burlington may begin exploring what it would mean to seek the designation of a “sanctuary city.” Recently, both Burlington and Winooski have been investigating the possibility and now, the City of South Burlington could join their ranks.

The item was brought forth by Chair Helen Riehle at the council’s December 5 meeting. Riehle’s aim was to gauge council interest in pursuing more information on the topic. Riehle said she would want to find out what policies South Burlington already has in place in regard to immigrant rights, such as how the South Burlington police approach the issue of illegal immigrants. She was also curious about potential financial ramifications, including what it would cost to have the item looked at legally and have a resolution developed.

In Burlington, the city council voted on a resolution that would create a committee to investigate the idea, and Winooski has begun a similar process to help ensure that immigrants in their city are protected and to continue the procedures already in place by law enforcement and municipal workers that preclude them from asking individuals about their immigration status.

The majority of South Burlington’s councilors expressed an interest in pursuing the topic. Tim Barritt said he had brought up the issue to Riehle in addition to her receiving an e-mail from a resident. “I want to understand the policies,” Barritt said, “and most importantly, ensure that everyone is treated fairly and equally under the law.”

In addition, Meaghan Emery, who is a professor at the University of Vermont mentioned their push to seek status as a sanctuary university and thought it would be a benefit to students to offer additional protections for when they leave campus. Tom Chittenden suggested the pursuit of a non-binding referendum and seeking public input.

Pat Nowak expressed concern that the council was deviating from the work plan they had established for themselves in March by allowing a resident’s concerns to drive the agenda. She did not see a need to rush the process and suggested waiting until after the election in March to broach the topic. “We need to get the budget and Capital Improvement Program (CIP) taken care of ... it bothers me that we would make a plan and not follow it.” Nowak also wanted to find out from various city entities whether the city already has some immigrant protection policies in place.

Riehle and City Manager Kevin Dorn subsequently met with Burlington Mayor Miro Weinberger December 6 to discuss areas of mutual interest and included the sanctuary city topic in their conversation.

City Manager Kevin Dorn related, “Burlington has, or is, setting up a task force to examine all aspects of this issue in order to understand any of the ramification or issues associated with municipal practices consistent with the sanctuary city concept. Helen and our council are also in a fact finding mode, trying to understand what a sanctuary city really is, what we are already doing primarily in law enforcement that is consistent with the sanctuary city characteristics, and where the council may want to go. We have a fair amount of work to do to get this information to the council.”

These are all items up for exploration when the conversation returns on a future agenda.

SOURCE: Corey Burdick, Correspondent