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East Lansing City Council moves to become a ‘sanctuary city,' reins in deer cull

Arjun Thakkar

The City of East Lansing is moving to be considered a “sanctuary city." City Council approved the designation in a 3-1 vote on Tuesday night and also took limited steps to rein in its annual two-month long deer cull.

Attendees filled the Hannah Community Center meeting room to weigh in on the two proposals. Tuesday's meeting was also the first since Councilmember Lisa Babcock stepped down to serve as district court judge.

Council members said the sanctuary city resolution is just the beginning of their work to make the city welcoming to all of its residents.

The resolution comes after a push from the city’s Human Rights Commission and students at Michigan State University. It changes East Lansing’s prior designation as a “safe haven” and continues to limit the East Lansing Police Department from cooperating with federal immigration authorities. The change is meant to protect residents from persecution based on their immigration status.

The council discussed the resolution at December's meeting but delayed the vote to explore potential threats to federal funding.

Mayor Ron Bacon said it’s important for the city to take a stand on the issue. But he acknowledged the city needs to prepare itself and expand resources if it seeks to shelter its undocumented residents.

A photo of East Lansing's four current councilmembers.
East Lansing City Council discussing resolutions at the Hannah Community Center Tuesday night.

He addressed his remarks to the students who advocated for the sanctuary city designation and added that mass migration "is going to be the crisis of your time."

“It's a wonderful thing you're throwing out here, but it's actually a call to work," Bacon said. "You're actually opening a Pandora's box, and in a good way, but be prepared for what that means.”

Officials were not unanimous on approving the resolution. Councilmember George Brookover said he thinks East Lansing is already a welcoming city and argued immigration solutions need to come at the federal level.

Brookover added that East Lansing calling itself a sanctuary city could invite an influx of undocumented migrants, a circumstance he argued the city would not be prepared to handle.

"One of the moral responsibilities here is making sure that we can feed, clothe and provide for people like this, if in fact, they come here," Brookover said. "The reality is, we don't have the resources to take care of them. And I would feel pretty bad about that."

Council members also approved two motions that placed minor limitations on the city's program to combat deer overpopulation.

The motions allow the cull to broadly continue while eliminating the practice by the city’s aquatic center and requiring more communication about the cull in advance.

East Lansing first authorized an annual deer cull in 2020 to combat deer overpopulation. The animals can pose a threat to drivers as well as private property. Michigan is second in the nation for deer-related car accidents.

The city was scheduled to weigh in on the deer cull last month but postponed the vote to allow more time for public input. Public commenters spoke in support of and against the cull on Tuesday.

This year, East Lansing has permission from the state to eliminate 100 deer in the city at most. The council voted down a separate motion 2-2 that would have reduced that cap to 80.

Councilmember Dana Watson brought forth the three motions to consider restrictions on the cull. She said she wants to reduce the number of deer that are culled.

Watson said the city should be taking the killing of the animals more seriously.

“I challenge East Lansing to search for non-lethal ways as well to coexist with the deer that are here," Watson said.

Arjun Thakkar is WKAR's politics and civics reporter.
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