City council declares Cincinnati a 'sanctuary city'

CINCINNATI -- The City Council declared Cincinnati a "sanctuary city" Wednesday in a resolution that may have more symbolic than practical value.

The resolution, passed by a 6-2 vote following comments from dozens who attended the meeting, expresses officials' desire "to be a welcoming and inclusive city for all immigrants to live, work or visit."

City Councilmember Wendell Young introduced the resolution, noting Cincinnati's history as an "immigrant-friendly" city.

"There are already programs and policies in place that align with the fabric of 'sanctuary cities' here in Cincinnati," Young said.

The declaration of Cincinnati's status as a "sanctuary city" came two days after Mayor John Cranley claimed Cincinnati "has been for years, and will remain, a 'sanctuary city.'"

Experts who spoke to WCPO earlier this week said calling Cincinnati a "sanctuary city" is mostly symbolic.

The term "sanctuary city" has no legal definition, but it's often a label used for cities that refuse to turn over individuals to Immigration and Customs Enforcement, or cities that just have welcoming resources or policies in place for immigrants.

The council's resolution indicated plans to not respond to ICE detainer requests and  pointed to the Metropolitan Area Religious Coalition of Cincinnati's non-government ID program as examples of Cincinnati's "sanctuary city" practices.

During Cranley's news conference Monday, Police Chief Eliot Isaac did say the Cincinnati Police Department "will not be enforcing immigration laws."

However, that doesn't mean people who enter the U.S. illegally will find a safe haven in Cincinnati. A spokesperson with the Hamilton County Sheriff's Office said this week that they will continue to detain undocumented inmates at the request of federal authorities.

"People are asking me whether I’m taking the conservative or liberal side, and I tell them I’m taking the side of the law," Sheriff Jim Neil said in a statement to WCPO. "I was elected sheriff, and as sheriffs we don’t write the laws like legislators, we enforce the laws, whether federal, state or local."

The whole issued was kicked off by President Donald Trump's executive order last week temporarily banning citizens from seven Muslim-majority countries from entering the U.S. and stopping the admission of all refugees.

A city spokesperson told WCPO that city officials believe the executive order was written in a way that meant becoming a sanctuary city wouldn't violate federal law and the city wouldn't be subject to losing federal funding.

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