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'I don't expect us to change our stance': Oberlin officials react to Trump executive order on sanctuary cities

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    A sign in Spanish says Immigrants and Refugees Welcome at the First Church in Oberlin United Church of Christ.


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    Rev. David Hill, pastor of the First Church in Oberlin United Church of Christ, stands in front of a sign on the back of the church welcoming immigrants and refugees.



OBERLIN — Community leaders responded with disappointment to news that President Donald Trump signed an executive order to deny federal grants to any jurisdiction that calls itself a sanctuary city, as Oberlin has since 2009.

“I think that the federal government is overreaching, like they’re overreaching on a lot of things, and I think what President Trump is doing is disgraceful, quite frankly,” Councilman Kelley Singleton said. “We’ll see what happens as far as federal funding … but I don’t expect us to change our stance in any way.”

Oberlin became Lorain County’s first and only sanctuary city in 2009 in response to the 2008 arrest of Mexican nationals who were working at Casa Fiesta, a restaurant in Oberlin that now is closed.

Council President Ronnie Rimbert said the idea behind passing that resolution still stands, despite what Trump signed.

“Obviously I’m not in agreement with (the executive action),” Rimbert said. “I think he’s moving a little quick here, on not just sanctuary cities, but on a number of different issues.”

Plus, Rimbert said, the state takes most of the funding that Oberlin receives from the federal government, so he wasn’t too worried.

“There are some bigger fish to fry than us,” Rimbert said. “And as far as I’m concerned, the state is taking all our federal funding, so how much more can we be hurt?”

Council members said they would discuss the legal ramifications of the order, but they didn’t see any reason to change their designation.

“Our city government made a decision on how we were going to respond to people whose immigration status may be in question and we’re going to abide by that,” interim Police Chief Michael McCloskey said. “We certainly don’t want someone to be afraid to call police for help because of their immigration status. We want to help them resolve whatever problem they’re facing.”

Before Trump signed the executive order, churches in Oberlin were looking for ways to be welcoming.

Diana Steele, chair of the outreach and service committee for First Church in Oberlin United Church of Christ, ordered signs for the church that read “Immigrants & Refugees Welcome” in both English and Spanish.

“This came about at our December outreach meeting, after the election,” Steele said of the signs.

She said she felt Trump’s action was “aggressive and inappropriate” and wanted the community to know they were invited to come inside the church and be safe.

“I feel like this is a time of great uncertainty, and no one really knows what our president is going to do, but he’s certainly said a lot of things that terrify a lot of people and the church. Us, we have to stand up for the disenfranchised.”

David Hill, pastor of the church, said their message to the community is one of “extravagant welcome.”

“There are reports of folks driving through Oberlin yelling out windows at students who look Arab. This just adds to that,” Hill said of Trump’s action. “This is something that the church is trying to counter with those signs.”

Councilman Bryan Burgess’s reaction to Trump’s action more succinct: “You do your job, and I’ll do mine.”

“I don’t think it’s the municipality’s responsibility to enforce federal immigration policy,” Burgess said. “We aren’t paid to do it. Our Police Department isn’t federal marshals. They are there to protect and serve Oberlin residents.”

On his Facebook, Burgess wrote, “Our emergency services, utilities, recreation programs and hospitality are extended to all residents regardless of their nationality.”

It’s part of the city’s tradition of hospitality to be welcoming and provide shelter for those in need, said Councilwoman Linda Slocum.

“I’m just spinning from how fast things are going,” Slocum said of Trump. “It’s incredible how quickly he’s doing all this. I was hoping he would look at issues, understand the pros and cons to everything, but that’s not happening.”

Lorain, too, has been open to undocumented people, though it does not have a designation as an “official” sanctuary city.

“Stopping funding to cities like Oberlin, New York City and Chicago is the craziest thing,” Lorain Councilman Angel Arroyo said. “(President Trump) blames a small percentage of illegal immigrants for our problems, and it’s just not true. We wouldn’t be where we are today as a country if it wasn’t for immigrants.”

Contact Jodi Weinberger at 329-7245 or Follow her on Twitter @Jodi_Weinberger.

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