Mayor opposes parts of city immigration proposal

By Rebecca Sweeney

Lexington Mayor Jim Newberry said he opposed two recommendations to give illegal immigrants driver’s licenses and ID cards at a forum yesterday where the city’s Commission on Immigration submitted a final report of how to manage immigrants.

The nine-person commission, which is made up of educators, public safety officials volunteers and immigration advocates, conducted a five-month study reviewing the economic and political developments resulting from the influx of immigrants, and it presented the final seven recommendations yesterday.

Driver’s licenses are the responsibility of the state government, not the local government, Newberry said, so the city would have no authority to issue them.

Newberry, who said he has not thoroughly examined the report, said he has not seen any positive results in New Haven, Conn., the first city in the nation to begin issuing local identification cards to residents who do not have state or federal IDs so they can open a bank account or identify themselves.

“I’m also concerned about the expense and the likelihood that many people who are concerned about their immigration status may not seek to get them anyway,” Newberry said.

The other recommendations in the report included:

n    Enforcing housing codes in a way that does not target immigrants.

n    Establishing a local Office of International Affairs.

n    Ensuring the city is meeting obligations of the Civil Rights Act.

n    Enforcing existing labor laws.

n    Identifying how much assistance — if any — local law agencies should give to enforce federal immigration laws.

Federal law limits the role of local and state government in enforcement of federal immigration laws, Newberry said.

Newberry said he wants members of the Lexington community to remain tolerant and respectful of others’ viewpoints as immigration issues are being addressed.

“It’s clear that immigration issues are matters of great concern to many Lexingtonians, and while some would simply prefer to ignore those concerns and hope they go away, that approach rarely works,” he said.

“This is a difficult issue for our community, but I am confident that we can work together to find solutions that will work for Lexington,” Newberry said.

The only recommendation that all nine members of the commission supported is that housing-code enforcement should not unfairly target immigrants. Reallocation of government resources for staffing and training would be needed to accomplish this, the report said.

Brian L. Rich, who is a member of the commission, an associate professor of sociology at Transylvania University and a board member of the Kentucky Coalition for Immigrant and Refugee Rights, said public safety is the No. 1 issue for the commission.

“We have to keep in mind that people who immigrate here, especially undocumented people, the last thing they want to do is get in trouble,” he said. “The vast majority are here to help feed their families, to support their families, and they are good examples of what good families do.”