By Anne Holzman
An ordinance under consideration in Falcon Heights generally would protect immigrants living in the city from being questioned about their legal status.
Led by Council member Yakasah Wehyee, the Falcon Heights City Council has begun discussing a “Welcoming Community” ordinance that is modeled after a similar measure in Minneapolis. The council has discussed the idea at two recent workshop meetings and has directed city staff to draft an ordinance for initial review at its Aug. 5 workshop session.
The proposed Falcon Heights ordinance would restrict city staff, including contracted public safety officers, from volunteering information about residents to Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE), Wehyee said in an interview. Police would also be directed not to seek out or detain anyone because of suspicions about their immigration status.
“The ordinance would not prevent ICE from doing their jobs,” he said. “What we can do at the city level is declare that unless there is a formal procedure that ICE is following, we don’t volunteer that information.”
Wehyee contended the city needs such an ordinance because Falcon Heights’ population includes many international students and other immigrants, and some of them may experience lapses in their immigration status and become vulnerable to detention and even deportation.
He added the Ramsey County Sheriff’s Office, which provides police services to the city, currently operates under a sanctuary policy, but that policy doesn’t cover city staff and isn’t controlled by the City Council.
Wehyee noted 25 percent of Falcon Heights residents are students. And he estimated that “a majority” of residents in the Common Terrace graduate student housing at the University of Minnesota’s St. Paul campus are not U.S. citizens, with other immigrants scattered through town.
Wehyee said Falcon Heights’ significant immigrant population makes it “urgent” to declare that “we’re not in the business of seeking them out or apprehending them or turning them over.”
Asked whether there’s evidence that that is happening now, Wehyee said part of the problem is that staff or elected representatives might not even hear about such incidents because of fear among immigrants.
Wehyee said he’d rather not wait until someone needs defending, and he feels this is a top priority for him as a council member. “We’re talking about some of the most vulnerable people in our community,” he said. “It is also the responsibility of government to think critically about how to anticipate challenges that would make our most vulnerable residents less secure.”
The City Council’s next workshop is scheduled for 6:30 p.m. Aug. 5. During the pandemic, council meetings are conducted online via Zoom. For an invitation to the meeting, email City Administrator Sack Thongvanh at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Anne Holzman, a former St. Anthony Park resident, is a regular freelance contributor to the Bugle.