Roanoke residents voice support for a "sanctuary city"

(Copyright by WSLS - All rights reserved)

ROANOKE (WSLS 10) - The debate continues over the term "sanctuary city". On Monday, community organizations held a news conference to show support for policies designed to keep improve relationships between police and the immigrant community--both authorized and undocumented.  During a forum for city council candidates last week, candidates were asked to answer "yes" or "no" in regards to making Roanoke a sanctuary city. The majority answered "yes".

"We were all in the mindset that the perception was talking about welcoming and inviting communities" said Anita Price, city council member. "Had a definition been offered prior we would had a different response and a different conversation."

Congressman Bob Goodlatte spoke out against the candidates remarks saying the city would endanger American lives if it became a sanctuary city because it would not be enforcing immigration laws. During Monday's news conference, residents responded by speaking in favor of the plan.

Proponents said sanctuary cities encourage members of immigrant communities to speak out against dangerous criminals without fear of deportation.

"It does not mean it is a safe haven for everyone," said Yolanda Puyana, Latino community leader.

Puyana said she submitted the question asked about sanctuary cities during last week's candidate forum. While there is not a clear legal definition of the term, she said the designation would make immigrants feel comfortable talking with police officers instead of fearing deportation.

"It's a law or policy that local citizens from all over the country have taken to protect and improve the relationship between the police department and their community," said Puyana.

With close to 104 countries represented in the Star City, supporters said becoming a "sanctuary city" could help unite communities, encourage more people to work with police and help improve public safety.

Puyana said it is up to city leaders to vote on whether or not Roanoke should be a sanctuary city. It's not currently up for discussion but she said it's an important topic to some voters in the May election.