The Center for Immigration Studies (CIS) updated its list of sanctuary cities, counties, and states this week, removing Lebanon County in what the County Commissioners have called a correction of a designation that they say should never have been given in the first place.
Sanctuary status involves varying levels of noncompliance with the federal government’s Immigration and Customs Enforcement law enforcement agency. ICE was formed within the Department of Homeland Security following 9/11, combining several customs, immigration, and security functions into a single office.
The Lebanon County Commissioners issued a press release yesterday explaining that the sanctuary classification stemmed from a 2008 revision of Lebanon County Prison’s policy on ICE detainers. County Administrator Jamie Wolgemuth explained yesterday that the policy change was motivated by limiting legal liability as incurred by Lehigh County in a previous ICE-related case that involved the erroneous detention of a US citizen. The Commissioners said this policy revision was misinterpreted by CIS as embracing sanctuary county status, resulting in Lebanon County being listed in its 2016 report.
Lebanon County Commissioners acted two years ago to revise the policy. Although County Commissioner Jo Ellen Litz voted against the policy revision, she said at the time that her ‘no’ vote was issued not because she supported sanctuary statue, but because she had no record of voting for the revision in the first place.
Arguments in favor of sanctuary status vary. While sanctuary status is oftentimes framed as a moral or political stance in opposition to the current presidential administration’s immigration policy, some police chiefs in immigrant-heavy cities have said that sanctuary policies allow them to better fulfill their policing duties by reducing the anxiety of immigrants in talking to police.
While sanctuary status tends to be considered a Democratic position—Philadelphia Mayor Jim Kenney, for instance, has made headlines over his time in office for his dueling position with President Donald J. Trump over sanctuary status—Commissioner Litz has indicated that she sees the changes as positive. “This was a wrong made right,” she said in the press release.
“It’s been some time coming,” said County Commissioner and Prison Board Chairman Bob Phillips of the change.
Lebanon County citizen Bill Dougherty was recognized for his help in making the case to the DC-based think tank. Dougherty was said by Commissioner Litz to have used right-to-know requests to obtain the necessary documentation for CIS.
The current CIS map lists the following sanctuary counties across the state.
- Bradford County
- Bucks County
- Butler County
- Chester County
- Clarion County
- Delaware County
- Erie County
- Franklin County
- Lehigh County
- Lycoming County
- Montgomery County
- Montour County
- Perry County
- Philadelphia County
- Pike County
- Westmoreland County
“I’m glad that albatross is off our neck,” said County Commissioner Bill Ames in the release. “It was an unintended consequence but we worked quickly to fix it. It’s good to finally be off the list.”
A CIS spokesperson told PennLive that the center had missed the policy change at the time it was made in 2017.
CIS is not without its own controversy. The Southern Poverty Law Center deemed the group a “designated hate group” for the group’s promotion of what SPLC describes as white nationalist and antisemitic authors, as well as publishing reports that SPLC said hype the criminality of immigrants. Some social media commenters have made the argument that the commissioners should not be using taxpayer time to address the concerns of an organization with such controversial positions. (This paragraph added after publication to reflect the below conversation.)
Commissioner Litz also posted video of Wolgemuth’s explanation of CIS’ apparent misclassification. Watch below.
Full Disclosure: The reelection campaigns of Bob Phillips and Bill Ames are sponsors of LebTown. LebTown does not make editorial decisions based on sponsorship status and sponsors do not receive special editorial treatment. Learn more about LebTown’s sponsorship program here.
Update 10:15am: The initial version of this post did not include our disclosure notice. We sincerely regret the error.