Cincinnati is defying President Donald Trump's crackdown on illegal immigration, joining a group of major U.S. cities in welcoming people who are in the country without permission.
Standing amid several of the region's Muslim, Catholic, Jewish and political leaders, Mayor John Cranley on Monday proudly announced Cincinnati as a so-called "sanctuary city." It means Cincinnati will not enforce federal immigration laws against people who are here illegally, something the city already has been doing.
"We have put the whole world on notice that we intend to live up to the Statue of Liberty ideals," Cranley said. He added that being a sanctuary city "is a badge of honor."
The sanctuary debate is separate from the ongoing national and international debate over Trump's temporary suspension of the U.S. refugee program, which has blocked immigrant refugees with visas and green cards from legally entering the country.
Cranley and others spoke Monday about the refugee ban and the chaos it has caused worldwide, but the focus was on illegal immigrants and their place in Cincinnati.
The decision to declare Cincinnati a sanctuary city does not put the city in danger of losing federal money, Cranley said, though President Trump has threatened to withhold money from any local jurisdictions that don't cooperate with federal immigration officials.
"I don't believe it," Cranley said. "I just don't believe it."
Others aren't so sure. Republican Councilman Charlie Winburn said he had "concerns" about the sanctuary city status. "I'm not interested in putting federal funding for Cincinnati in jeopardy," Winburn said. "I also don't want to make the jobs of our police officers any harder."
Defining the possible consequences of calling Cincinnati a "sanctuary city" is a challenge, mostly because Trump has not yet defined his plan and because the term sanctuary city means different things to different people.
In some communities, local law enforcement may be discouraged from cooperating with federal immigration officials, while in others local authorities may simply avoid actively involving themselves in immigration enforcement. Based on written policies and past statements, Cincinnati appears to fall into the latter category.
"We value our immigrant population," Chief Eliot Isaac said. "The Cincinnati police department is in the business of making everyone safe. We will not be enforcing immigration laws."
Nothing local authorities are doing, however, would stop or interfere with the work of federal immigration officials. Cincinnati Police Department policy is to cooperate in most cases with federal authorities if they seek assistance, but that doesn't mean officers will begin checking the immigration status of everyone they encounter if federal authorities ask.
Although local enforcement agencies can sign agreements with federal authorities to enforce immigration laws, federal law does not require them to do so. "We don't proactively seek out people who are undocumented or are over-staying their visas," Cincinnati police spokesman Steve Saunders said. "That's not our role."
Trump has said the costs of defying the federal government in any way could be high, saying federal aid to sanctuary cities could be at risk. The city of Cincinnati does not receive any federal money specifically for immigration, city officials said. As part of its $1 billion annual operating budget, the city receives federal money for housing, roads, and non-immigration related law enforcement projects, according to city budget documents.
"It is against the law to deny federal funding to communities for taking positions like this," said Todd Portune, president of the Hamilton County board of commissioners. "Immigration issues like deportation are civil issues, they're not criminal law."
Cincinnati joins several other cities that have Democratic mayors in being a sanctuary city, including New York, Boston, Chicago and San Francisco. "Sanctuary city" is a popular term among pro-immigration activists, but it does not have a set definition and is not an official government designation.
Cincinnati already has taken steps to be a "sanctuary city" the past two years, and Democratic council members Yvette Simpson and Chris Seelbach had been working on a plan to designate the city as such in recent months. Simpson is running against Cranley in this year's mayoral race, but she stood alongside other leaders during the mayor's press conference and did not want to politicize the matter.
"I wish we could've gotten here sooner," Simpson said, "but I'm just glad we're doing it now."
Earlier Monday, Councilman Wendell Young introduced a resolution calling for Cincinnati to become a "sanctuary city." He is supporting Simpson in the mayor's race, but Young also stood behind the mayor during the press conference. Fellow Democrats David Mann and P.G. Sittenfeld also stood with the mayor. Seelbach was out-of-town tending to a personal matter.
None of council's conservatives joined Cranley at the press conference, which occurred at the same time council held it's budget committee meeting.
Cranley previously has called Cincinnati "immigrant friendly," and here is a look at some of the steps the city had already taken prior to Monday: