ROELAND PARK, Kan. -- There's a fiery debate going on in a small Johnson County city over public safety, immigration and the long arm of the law.
Roeland Park Mayor Mike Kelly said he became intrigued during a presentation last week by a representative from the ACLU of Kansas on a "safe and welcoming" ordinance.
If passed, the policy, which is alternately referred to as a non-compliance ordinance, would advise Roeland Park police not to cooperate with federal agents from Immigration and Customs Enforcement.
“Anytime we have an opportunity to not only conserve resources but also to make sure we are continuing that bond of trust with our community, that’s something we’re going to consider,” Kelly said.
Dozens of cities and counties across the country, from San Francisco to Providence, Rhode Island, have either enacted or considered a non-compliance ordinance regarding ICE agents.
Lawrence and Kansas City, Kansas, leaders have adopted a cautious approach with respect to local police cooperating with ICE agents, but it’s believed Roeland Park would be the first city in Kansas to adopt a written ordinance.
Kelly rejects the notion that, if passed, the proposal would make Roeland Park a sanctuary city.
“I don’t know what sanctuary city technically means,” Kelly said. “I think that’s a term that gets thrown around across the country, and it may mean different things to different cities and that’s not what we’re considering here in Roeland Park.”
Former Kansas Secretary of State Kris Kobach disagrees.
As a prominent voice in the national immigration debate, Kobach believes the proposal could set a dangerous precedent in Roeland Park.
“They’re just playing with words, whether they call it a safe and welcoming city or a sanctuary city,” Kobach said. “The federal definition, in federal law, of a sanctuary city is a place that restricts the ability of local police officers to communicate with and cooperate with ICE.”
Kelly said the proposal would make exceptions in cases where ICE agents are trying to apprehend dangerous fugitives with individuals with felony warrants.
The proposal will get its first public hearing at a Roeland Park City Council meeting on Oct. 7.