HUNTSVILLE, Ala. - Immigration is a controversial topic in national politics, and it is making its way to the local level in the Rocket City.
Thursday, a group of concerned citizens came to the Huntsville City Council. They wanted to speak at the meeting about immigration enforcement, advocating for Huntsville to become a sanctuary city.
"Undocumented people in Huntsville are terrified of police officers, because officers are associated with the destruction of things they hold dear, like permanent separation from their families," said Rev. Ellin Jimmerson.
Jimmerson said if Huntsville Police were not required to enforce federal immigration laws, through the protection of a sanctuary city, that fear would be erased or reduced.
Because of that fear, "I worry that our undocumented neighbors will not show up for court dates, will keep their kids home from school, or won't take them for medical care," explained another citizen.
This group says the best way to help the immigrants and refugees is to protect them from deportation so they can continue to work to make their own lives better.
One woman touched on her experience with her neighbors: "I have been moved by their sacrificial giving and their extreme hospitality. And they are from a country that's torn by civil war. They have no home to go back to," she said tearfully.
"By making Huntsville a sanctuary city, they can continue thriving here," she continued. "Working their businesses, raising their families, and pursuing their degrees and their careers without fear of the law enforcement showing up at their homes."
"Calling them illegal, locking them up, is contrary to our own best interests as Americans," another citizen argued. "I want sensible and compassionate ways to deal with this issue... We need immigrants' contributions in work and talent."
Not everyone present was an advocate, though. One man came to oppose sanctuary cities.
"I can't believe I've heard so many people tonight asking the city to inform their police officers to break the law," he explained. "By even suggesting that we aid and [abet] criminals, you are calling the good, legal citizens who went through the legal process, suckers...We all want to live a good life, and wish everyone in the world to do the same. But we cannot be a dumping ground for everyone in the world who is displeased with their own country?" he asked.
It's also something Alabama Governor Robert Bentley has opposed. Huntsville Mayor Tommy Battle said the city will not consider it either, explaining that he believes it's beyond the city's abilities, more of a federal issue.
"We will enforce what the law is," Battle explained in an interview with WHNT News 19. "We are not a sanctuary city, and Huntsville will not be a sanctuary city because that's asking someone to go beyond what the law is. We are an inclusive community, we will always be that, and always respect everybody's rights, but there is a rule of law that has to be followed."
"I remember my mother and my grandmother who were immigrants," said Council President Jennie Robinson.
"I'm also reminded that what we are talking about are federal issues, and these federal issues should be addressed with federal authorities. That's not our jurisdiction. We have each taken an oath to uphold the constitution, and we are bound by that oath. But I am grateful for you being here tonight, and thank you for sharing your thoughts," she told the crowd.
Battle said during the meeting that Chief Mark McMurray wants to assure the public "there is no movement or expectation of new or altered policy as to how the police department serves the community."