Our case for Sanctuary

A group of Shaker Heights, Ohio residents asked our City Council to adopt a Sanctuary City resolution. These are my opening remarks.

Members of the Council, Mr. Mayor,

My name is Brandon Cornuke. I live in Shaker Heights with my wife, a second generation Shaker Heights native, and our two daughters. I am speaking on behalf of a conscientious, deeply concerned group of Shaker residents. Our goal is passage of a resolution declaring Shaker Heights a Sanctuary City. We’ve come forward tonight to begin that process.

On January 25th, President Trump signed an executive order vastly increasing the federal government’s efforts to find, detain, and deport undocumented immigrants. Four days later, Trump temporarily banned all entry into the US from seven predominantly Muslim countries. He also banned migrants and refugees from across the globe. Last week, under the direction of the Trump administration, the Department of Homeland Security issued a sweeping expansion of its deportation efforts.

These actions threaten our civil liberties and break down the division between local and federal law enforcement. Moreover, they directly assault the values of Shaker Heights — values such as diversity, inclusion, and community. As such, we are calling on the City to join Chicago, San Francisco, New York, Cincinnati, and dozens of courageous municipalities across the country by declaring itself a Sanctuary City.

Sanctuary Cities, for those of you who don’t know, refuse to voluntarily assist with immigration enforcement. For example, local law enforcement in Sanctuary Cities do not inquire about anyone’s immigration status, nor do they hold undocumented immigrants without a federal warrant. You will find the full extent of the proposed provisions in the resolution in front of you. We have attached a facts and rationale sheet for your reference. We also have over 286 signatures from Shaker Heights residents petitioning the Council to pass this resolution.

Several members of the community would like to add their voices to this conversation tonight. However, as a group we want to briefly address three important questions for the council: Is this resolution legal? Is it a local matter? And are there risks?

First, is this legal?

Yes. These rights are protected by the Ohio State Constitution. Article XVIII, Section 3 (referred to as Home Rule) give localities the prerogative to direct police policy. Even without state protections, local police do not have the authority to enforce immigration laws. According to multiple court rulings, cooperating with federal immigration agents is voluntary. What’s more, if Shaker Heights complies with warrentless detainers, the city and the police force could be sued for holding people without probable cause and violating the 4th Amendment. Far from being illegal, becoming a Sanctuary City, actually affirms federal law and the civil rights of our citizens.

Next, is this a local matter?

Some members of the Council have expressed concerns over whether Shaker Heights should take positions on national issues. We understand why that might give you pause. But we believe that this is, in fact, the definition of a local issue. First, these executive actions have a direct impact on local public safety. If immigrants — regardless of their immigration status — fear interactions with our police force, they will be less likely to cooperate with our hardworking police officers, report crimes, or testify in trials. Our neighbors and their children — some of whom are here tonight — are afraid that they will be targeted by the police, simply because of the way they look. Not only is this anathema to our values, but it also makes us less safe as a community.

Of course, this is also a local matter because the Federal government is asking us to use local resources to support a federal agency and enforce federal law with local tax dollars.

Finally, are there risks?

Donald Trump has threatened to withhold federal funding from Sanctuary Cities. While the legal grounds to implement this order are questionable and San Francisco has already filed a challenge in court, the fact remains that the President is willing to intimidate communities that defy him. It would certainly be easier to remain silent.

But, by implication, that would make us complicit. As Archbishop Desmond Tutu said, “If you are neutral in situations of injustice, you have chosen the side of the oppressor.” We would argue that the greater risk to our community is not the ire of the Executive branch; it is allowing fear to erode the values we, as a city, hold most dear. By putting ourselves in the path of injustice, we make it clear that Shaker Heights is willing to fight for the rights of our citizens.

Kamala Harris, a Senator from California recently said, “If you’ve ever wondered what you would have done during the Civil Rights Movement, this is your opportunity to find out.” When our grandchildren read about the history of Shaker Heights, there should be no doubt where we stood on this issue. We want this to be the moment when we defied hatred and fear, and affirmed the values that make Shaker Heights a strong, vibrant, welcoming community.

We understand that this may be the first time you have considered this issue. We’re hopeful that, after hearing from your constituents, you will see the urgent need to pass this resolution, and we hope to work with you to bring this goal to fruition.

Thank you.


Cleveland.com subsequently published a story about the meeting.