Welcoming Cities on the Metro Horizon After Windsor Heights’ Approval

DES MOINES, Iowa -- With President Donald Trump's January executive order prohibiting sanctuary cities from receiving federal grants, the city of Windsor Heights became the first in the metro last week to skirt the issue by becoming a Welcoming City.  "We won't impede anything that will come from the federal level but we are letting people know that it's not our mission to go after undocumented immigrants. That's not the goal and we are not going to actively pursue that," said Windsor Heights Council Member Zachary Bales-Henry.

Without being a hindrance to Immigration and Customs Enforcement agents, their move looks to soon create a domino effect in the metro.  Bales-Henry said, "We saw a lot of the metro cities talking about it but nobody was taking action."

That's why Drake University brought in local experts, including Bales-Henry, for a panel discussion Thursday evening. "We see it as an educational opportunity to present a lot of perspective from a lot of different angles," said the evening's moderator and Sociology Professor Darcie Vandegrift.

Some, like Maria Mendez of Des Moines spoke of the fear current illegal immigrants have been faced with.  "They are scared about the kids.  For them to be leaving and they want to stay here because they don't know Mexico.  They don't know any place but here."

Joe Gonzalez, Former Lieutenant and now Latino-Outreach leader with the Des Moines Police Department said the fear has even hindered investigations.  "They were afraid to call and report crime. They were being victimized and they felt that because they were undocumented they had no right to police protection."

Others, like Ken Bresnan of the Catholic Diocese of Des Moines,  believe the controversial issue has become a religious calling  "For I was hungry and you gave me something to eat.  I was thirsty and you gave me a drink.  I was a stranger and you welcomed me in."

Now Lt. Gonzalez says even Des Moines looks to soon follow Windsor Heights' lead.  "It will be similar to Windsor Heights but it's real close to being written out completely and brought to the city council."

An embrace that Bales-Henry believes all will find comfort in.  "It's safe and you can be in our community and we're not going to pursue you."

The Des Moines Police Department has refused to agree to a federal agreement option that would allow local officers to become deputized as ICE agents and enforce immigration law.