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Norman again at odds with state lawmakers after recommendation to become sanctuary city

Mayor Breea Clark says her city's residents would like to see Norman become become a sanctuary city. [Oklahoman Archives]
Mayor Breea Clark says her city's residents would like to see Norman become become a sanctuary city. [Oklahoman Archives]

NORMAN — As Norman residents push for increasingly progressive policies, conservative lawmakers continue attempts to shut down those efforts.

A subcommittee for Norman’s Human Rights Commission recently recommended, among many other things, that the city enact policies to become a sanctuary city.

But around the same time those recommendations became public, Sen. Nathan Dahm, R-Broken Arrow, filed a bill for the 2020 session that would prohibit cities and state agencies from creating any sanctuary policies.

“I wasn’t surprised,” said Norman Mayor Breea Clark. “If Norman even starts to have a conversation — we didn’t even bring it to the full (city) council and there is already a preemption bill."

Dahm said his bill was not aimed specifically at Norman because he believes sanctuary policies have become a serious problem nationwide.

"Our first responsibility should be to our citizens," Dahm said. "So I understand that Norman might want to enact other policies, but they don’t have the legal authority to supersede the constitution."

Norman's sanctuary recommendations specifically pointed to creating a family-first policy to “keep immigrant families intact,” developing relationships with other sanctuary providers like churches and nonprofits and trying to push for reform in county jails so U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement Agency detainers aren’t honored.

Currently, the Cleveland County jail does not hold individuals "based solely on a federal immigration detainer" unless a warrant or other documents accompany the detainer, or if the person is charged with a federal crime, according to the Cleveland County sheriff's office.

The jail does notify officials when a person with a detainer is going to be released.

"Based on 2019 numbers, immigration issues affect less than 1% (0.58%) of the total number of people processed through the jail," according to a statement from the sheriff's office. "(The office) holds all partner law enforcement agencies accountable to providing the Sheriff's Office with proper legal documentation as prescribed by law for legally holding any and all individuals booked into the Cleveland County jail."

A bill that would require county jails to honor ICE detainers was also filed for the 2020 session.

Dahm’s bill outlines broadly what would be considered sanctuary policies, which includes jails not fully honoring ICE detainers, city employees being limited from cooperating with federal officials and municipalities knowingly providing “special benefits, privileges or support to illegal aliens.”

If a city, county or state agency enacted such policies, they would be barred from receiving state funds.

"That is one way that we can have some control and authority because we have the control over the purse strings," Dahm said. "We are a country of immigrants, but we want people to come through that route legally."

Clark said the Human Rights Commission subcommittee was created to continue pushing Norman to be an inclusive place, and the recommendations came from a group that “represents so many different backgrounds and walks of life in our city.”

Since the recommendations became public, Clark said there have been many questions. A discussion will take place Feb. 4 in a study session with the Norman City Council.

“I pulled aside the committee chairs and told them that ‘I know this is a big recommendation that you want us to do, but you need to know that this bill has been filed,’” Clark said.

Clark pointed to an initiative Norman tried to begin last year to reduce the use of plastic bags, which resulted in swift action from the state Legislature to prohibit any taxes on the single-use plastic, killing the initiative.

But Clark said just like Norman residents are still trying to find ways to reduce plastic-bag use and increase recycling, they will “get just as creative to protect people living in our city.”

“Luckily, Norman residents are not only passionate and educated, we are creative,” Clark said. “And I’d much rather see the obstacles and have time to get innovative and creative on how to approach things we want to do.”

Cleveland County Commissioner Rod Cleveland said he doesn’t believe there is much action the city can truly take.

“Right now, the only thing the city can do is just say ‘We’re a sanctuary city,’” Cleveland said. “(The county) is about preserving public safety and complying and working with federal law enforcement agencies.”

Kayla Branch

Kayla Branch covers county government and poverty for The Oklahoman. Branch is a native Oklahoman and graduate of the University of Oklahoma. She joined The Oklahoman staff in April 2019. Read more ›

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