Carbondale considers student-driven immigration policies |

Carbondale considers student-driven immigration policies

Ryan Summerlin

Though Carbondale trustees last week didn’t pass a resolution on immigration policy proposed by a group of middle schoolers, a couple trustees do plan to collaborate with the students to fine tune its language.

This proposed resolution was presented by four students from Carbondale Middle School: Jessica Koller, Cassidy Meyer, Vanessa Leon and Keiry Lopez. It lists a number of policies that would generally bar town employees from working with federal immigration officers or inquiring into an immigrant’s legal status.

These students and several other residents told trustees that there is a real fear among immigrants of the police, and that it is leading to problems like immigrants avoiding reporting crimes out of fear of deportation and a general lack of understanding between the Hispanic and white communities.

Prior to the trustee meeting, these students held their own community meeting, got feedback from the Police Department and explored potential funders for the effort. On the funding front, the students said they’ve already been in touch with the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation and National Equity Project.

Mayor Dan Richardson said that a resolution or ordinance like this would be good if the trustees did not trust the police chief to exercise his judgment, but that is not the case. These policies as written, the mayor feared, would tie the chief’s hands and give him no discretion.

“Our approach to law enforcement is based upon behavior, not bias,” Police Chief Gene Schilling and Lt. Chris Wurtsmith wrote in a memo to trustees. “As such, we aggressively have gone after suspects who have committed violence, participated in gang affiliation, drug distribution and property crimes. We want victims from any and all cultures to feel comfortable coming to us without fear of deportation.”

Still, if Carbondale officers find that a person is subject to a state or federal judicial order, they have to enforce those orders, they wrote.

“As municipalities, it’s our role primarily to respond to national policy, like it or not, whether it’s a good policy or not,” said Richardson. “And it becomes difficult because we have limited access, and limited ability to change national policy. What we’re discussing tonight is how do we do that. How do we respond to national policy? How does it affect our community?”

Since the November election, there has been a lot of discussion about immigration issues, and the police chief has made statements on his department’s policies, Richardson said.

Soon after the presidential election, Schilling put out an official statement reassuring immigrants in Carbondale that their police force was “not actively looking for people to deport” and encouraging immigrants to report crimes.

Also brought to the trustees’ attention was a flier recently discovered in the Carbondale City Market, further illustrating the state of ethnic relations within the community. The flier encourages individuals who want to report undocumented immigrants to call U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement and provide the agency with specifics including names, addresses and workplaces.

“This is basically calling on citizens to spy on each other,” said Shawna Foster, minister at Two Rivers Unitarian Universalist church in Carbondale.

Richardson and Trustee Erica Sparhawk agreed to work with the Carbondale Middle School students to hone the resolution’s language into something the board may be able to pass in a future meeting.

Trustees also extended an invitation Hispanic residents to apply for an open seat on the board, created by former-Trustee Katrina Byars’ recent departure.

Though only one candidate has submitted an application so far, the open seat has generated some interest, with others having contacted the town clerk about the vacancy. The deadline to submit an application is the end of the workday July 21.

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