Traverse City considering 'sanctuary city' status

May 12, 2017

A man works on his truck in the migrant worker camp at Bardenhagen Farms in Suttons Bay.
Credit Aaron Selbig

Officials in Traverse City are discussing the possibility of “sanctuary city” status. The city’s Human Rights Commission has debated the idea at its meetings over the last few months. The declaration would mean police would not report undocumented immigrants to the federal government.

Mayor Jim Carruthers says the conversation came up because of recent changes in federal immigration policy. He says city staff had reservations about the idea, so he referred it to the Human Rights Commission. 

Carruthers  supports the move, despite concerns that the city could lose out on federal funding.

“It is a controversial topic," says Carruthers. "When the current leadership in Washington is tying it all to federal dollars, that scares small towns like us. I understand the cautiousness come out of our leadership for that reason.”

Carruthers says Traverse City Police do not currently target undocumented people, but they do report them to federal immigration officials. He says officials with ICE - Immigration and Customs Enforcement - do not typically follow up on these reports. TCPD Chief Jeff O'Brien declined to comment for this story.

Carruthers says the conversation is important because the region depends on migrant labor that arrives in the summer to pick fruit.

He says a possible compromise to avoid controversy might be to use the name “Human Rights City” instead of sanctuary city.

“We can sort of craft something around supporting our undocumented people in our community without calling it a sanctuary city," says Carruthers. "So that might take some of the heat or some of the visibility away, I don’t know.”

No other cities in Michigan have specifically labeled themselves sanctuary cities, although Detroit and Ann Arbor have laws directing police not to collect information on immigration status. Last month, Lansing briefly became a sanctuary city before the city council later reversed that decision.

If the Traverse City Human Rights Commission approves a sanctuary city resolution, it would then go to the full city commission.