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Wyandotte County passes 'Safe And Welcoming Act,' providing municipal IDs for immigrants

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Bek Shackelford-Nwanganga
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KCUR 89.3
Judy Ancel, president of the Cross Border Network for Justice and Solidarity, speaks to the Unified Government of Wyandotte County's Board of Commissioners at a meeting Thursday.

Advocates say the ordinance will protect vulnerable members of the community including immigrants and those who are homeless. Supporters are also hopeful the new measure will encourage collaboration with law enforcement. 

The Unified Government of Wyandotte County’s Board of Commissioners passed the "Safe and Welcoming Wyandotte Act" late Thursday night by a vote of 6-4, a move advocates call a win for immigrants, people experiencing homelessness, elderly residents and the formerly incarcerated. The new measure will provide municipal IDs to residents without legal identification.

Yazmin Bruno Valdez, a community organizer for Advocates for Immigrant Rights and Reconciliation, was among the supporters who attended Thursday's meeting. Valdez is an immigrant who said she lived without legal identification for more than 20 years.

“I felt very like, you know, like not a part of society. I felt like there were several things that I couldn't do,” said Valdez. “When I had to go to my senior prom, they didn't let me in 'cause I didn't have an ID. Despite being a student at my school, I needed a driver's license or a state-issued ID. That was something I just didn't have as an immigrant. And these are just small snippets of my life, small snippets of everybody's life here in Wyandotte County.”

According to Valdez, 20% of Wyandotte County residents do not have photo identification.

“That's something that we need, whether we need to pick up a prescription or pick up our kids from our schools, get a library card, simple everyday activities,” said Valdez. “Without an ID, we can't get these things done.”

Better law enforcement relations

Before the meeting began, more than 100 community organizers showed up and demonstrated outside of the Wyandotte County Municipal Building.

The act was backed by a coalition of advocacy groups, such as the ACLU of Kansas, El Centro, Inc., the Cross Border Network for Justice and Solidarity and the Immigrant Justice Advocacy Movement.

Cross Border Network President Judy Ancel said the ordinance will help establish trust between Wyandotte’s immigrant community and police, by blocking police from cooperating or reporting to Immigration and Customs Enforcement unless there is a public safety emergency or they have a warrant signed by a judge.

“Often many of our immigrants don't call the police when they need to, don't report crimes, don't report stolen cars, don't report domestic violence, because they're afraid that either they or others in their families will be deported,” said Ancel. “We need our police to do police work and we need them to, and we need our community to be able to trust the police.”

Ancel also added that the municipal photo ID is an important piece of the ordinance, emphasizing that many elderly residents, immigrants, homeless people or formerly incarcerated people do not have a state issued ID, which hinders them from doing everyday tasks like cashing a check, enrolling their children in school or seeking medical care.

Advocates have pushed to pass the ordinance since 2017, but they did not have the support of former Mayor David Alvey. Current Mayor Tyrone Garner endorsed the ordinance during his campaign, and he placed the ordinance on the Board of Commissioners agenda for a discussion and vote.

The room erupted into applause when the ordinance passed, but it was a close call. District Two Commissioner At-Large Tom Burroughs moved to table the ordinance because he claimed there had not been enough community outreach to educate residents on the ordinance, but his motion failed 6-5. Garner was the tie-breaking vote.

“We cannot continue, in my opinion, to keep kicking this can down the road when the information has been out there for five years, ” said Garner.

Wyandotte County District Attorney Mark Dupree also endorsed the measure.

“I am in full support of the Safe and Welcoming Ordinance in Kansas City Kansas, because it will help bring real criminals to justice,” Dupree said in a statement. “It will assist witnesses of crime, that may not be citizens, to cooperate with law enforcement and the District Attorney’s office.”

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