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Lending a hand to make Wyandotte County “Safe and Welcoming”

By Charles Carney

David Johnson, a PeaceWorks-KC member, has been participating in a coalition of advocates to get the “Safe and Welcoming” ordinance passed in Wyandotte County, KS, for 5 years. The ordinance would, for example, remove barriers to undocumented workers and persons struggling with homelessness by helping them get an ID, thus making it easier for them to get a job, to avoid deportation and to secure housing.

In a recent interview, David recalled, “There were a few times we thought about throwing in the towel.”

But the group persisted under the leadership of Karla Juarez, the executive director of Advocates for Immigrant Rights and Reconciliation (AIRR), and through MORE2 in Kansas City, KS (MORE2 is Metro Organization for Racial and Economic Equity).

David credited a number of rallies that AIRR held that “helped draw this issue to the attention of the media and the general public.” The proposed ordinance was passed out of the subcommittee (unanimously, 4-0) on Jan. 17 and is headed for the Unified Government Board of Commissioners, for possible consideration Feb. 10. Assuming the original 4 subcommittee members vote to pass the ordinance, only one more vote is needed to obtain a majority from the 9-member commission.

Trinidad Molina of Advocates for Immigrant Rights and Reconciliation (AIRR) demonstrates for immigrants’ safety.

“In the early days, we got promises from the KCK police and the sheriff’s department that they would not use lack of ID to jail and deport undocumented immigrants,” said David. But he added that in the hostile era of Trump, these agencies reneged on their promises. David also credited Tyrone Garner, the newly elected and first African American mayor of the Unified Government, for “fulfilling a campaign promise and allowing this to come to a vote.” The previous mayor did not support the proposed ordinance.

Kansas City, KS, PeaceWorks member Beth Seberger, who has sponsored a Nicaraguan refugee in her home, testified at the Jan. 17th hearing right before the unanimous vote. Beth described how the restrictive ID policy put the person she sponsored in the precarious position of facing deportation at any moment.

Therese Bangert, a Sister of Charity of Leavenworth and a PeaceWorks member, of Kansas City, KS, told the subcommittee of the need for a “business coalition with a moral compass,” which would advocate a safe place for immigrants where their wages and human rights would be protected.

I submitted written testimony for the Jan. 17 hearing that undocumented workers and refugees were not the only ones who would benefit from the ordinance. I told stories about how the restrictive ID laws created unnecessary barriers for unhoused people, often keeping them on the street for extra months and even years at a time.

After the ordinance was advanced to the Unified Government Commission, Ann Suellentrop, a Wyandotte Countian and PeaceWorks Board member, wrote in an email: “Johnson County and the rest of the metro area need to pass similar laws!!!”

—Charles Carney, a PeaceWorks KC Board member, resides in Kansas City, KS. ©2022, Charles Carney, David Johnson, Beth Seberger, Therese Bangert, Ann Suellentrop, Creative Commons Attribution Share-Alike 4.0 International License.

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