Wyandotte County declares itself a sanctuary city-county. Is it wise, or even legal?

The Unified Government of Kansas City, Kansas/Wyandotte County voted Thursday night to essentially become a sanctuary city for illegal immigrants.

Local police will be prohibited from enforcing immigration law, and a new municipal ID card will be issued liberally by an autonomous nonprofit organization – as yet unnamed – apparently with little to no government oversight.

Moreover, although the “Safe and Welcoming City Act” passed by the Unified Government Board of Commissioners ostensibly requires potential recipients to already have various other forms of identification in order to get the municipal ID, the law also allows the nonprofit card issuer to accept any other form of identification the issuer deems acceptable.

“So none of the criteria means anything, because if the administrator wants to waive the criteria and issue an ID, they can just waive it at their will,” says Duane Beth, Wyandotte County Republican chair, who spoke against the ordinance Thursday. “There’s no criteria to verify a person who gets the ID is actually who the person says he is.”

Beth argues it’s a poorly written ordinance with vague provisions granting an unnamed nonprofit far too much power. He says UG lawyers even admit the nonprofit is being brought in to manage the municipal IDs in order to circumvent open records laws.

Whether that, or any other provision of the law, will work is a dubious proposition: A spokesman for Kansas Senate President Ty Masterson told The Heartlander Friday that, “It’s highly likely we will be taking quick action to address what happened.”

In addition, Kansas Attorney General Derek Schmidt issued a statement of his own Friday, saying injecting a “patchwork of local immigration politics” into law enforcement is a bad idea, “particularly at a time when the Biden administration continues to fail in its duty to secure our southern border. It is possible to welcome immigrants without ordering the police to ignore the law.”

Fact is, Wyandotte County’s move may only make things worse for the waning, legally questionable sanctuary city movement: The Kansas Legislature now may be inspired to ban sanctuary cities completely. Schmidt said that, while Kansas has yet to prohibit local sanctuary laws, “I believe it is now necessary and appropriate to do so, and I call upon the Legislature to enact a clear, strong and effective state law on this subject this year.”

Even so, Beth notes that the Wyandotte County ID card won’t have much effect, since no one, and certainly not any business, is required to honor it except the UG and Kansas City, Kansas Police Department. A retired police officer himself, Beth also says there are eight law enforcement agencies that operate daily in Wyandotte County, and most of them do so under the auspices of the state, including the sheriff’s office. They, too, aren’t required to recognize the card.

And, of course, the card will be completely meaningless outside the county. So, in effect, the ID cards may give holders a false sense of security.

Still, on that front Beth says the UG’s view that illegal immigrants need to be protected from KCKPD is ludicrous. He says, and the current chief told commissioners, that KCKPD simply doesn’t enforce immigration law to begin with. Beth says that goes back at least four decades.

UG commissioners, Beth says, simply appear to want to jump aboard the sanctuary city, anti-ICE bandwagon, albeit rather belatedly. “They’re trying to address a problem that doesn’t exist.”

And if the Safe and Welcoming City Act is a tardy and ill-conceived political statement, it also comes with myriad legal problems. Just one more of them, besides the lack of transparency and the loopholes on verifying the identities of cardholders: The ordinance essentially leaves it up to the as-of-yet unnamed nonprofit organization to write the details of the law. That would seem to be an illegal delegation of lawmaking authority to a private party.

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