Key West approves softer version of ‘sanctuary city’

This is Key West City Hall.
This is Key West City Hall. Keynoter

Key West isn’t any sanctuary city but a resolution aimed at protecting immigrants from the questioning of their citizenship status set off an emotional debate at City Hall this week.

In a 5-2 vote Tuesday, the City Commission approved Commissioner Jimmy Weekley’s resolution stamping Key West’s One Human Family motto onto the fiery national political debate over immigration.

Samari Aragon, whose parents are from Belize and Guatemala, fought off tears as she spoke about her parents moving without documentation to the Florida Keys from Central America some 25 years ago in search of a better life.

“My family wasn’t blessed with the advantages of being born in America,” said Aragon, of Big Pine Key, adding she grew up fearful her parents would be taken away through deportation. “Undocumented immigrants are people, too, and they’re just as equal as American citizens.”

The resolution is a softer version of Weekley’s original plan to have Key West deemed a sanctuary city earlier this year. Unwarranted inquiry about one’s citizenship status by law enforcement will not be tolerated in Key West, states the measure, which is not a law but a declaration.

“We need to protect all citizens of this community,” Weekley said. “Why wait until something happens and then react? This resolution is reaffirmation of our values as a city, that all people have value.”

Commissioner Richard Payne, a retired judge, said the resolution was perfectly written.

“This resolution does not use the word ‘sanctuary,’ ” Payne said. “If that word were in this resolution, I would be voting against it. We're not giving anyone sanctuary if they violated any law.”

Commissioners Margaret Romero and Billy Wardlow dissented, both saying Key West doesn’t have a problem with immigrants being harassed by law enforcement. Romero went further.

“Why are they undocumented?” Romero asked rhetorically about immigrants who lack the paperwork to live in the U.S. “Why won’t they begin the process to become a citizen? If I vote for this, I'm throwing water in the face of all folks who are lawful and responsible. To have rights, there are responsibilities.”

Others on the panel viewed the resolution as more philosophical in nature.

“I think it embodies what Key West is,” Mayor Craig Cates said. “I had my concerns earlier. I’m comfortable with the information I’ve received. It’s not as much as anything is going to change in Key West. We’re bringing the community together.”

Paying tribute

Also on Tuesday, the City Commission:

▪ Unanimously approved renaming the field at Cozumel Park in New Town after Jonathan Wells, 14, who was shot and killed by a friend with a pellet gun in what police deemed an accidental death. Wells was a star baseball player.

▪ Unanimously approved the Fourth of July fireworks, which this year the city will pay up to $45,000. Rotary Club of Key West members, who put on the annual event, say it will cost roughly $38,000.

Gwen Filosa: @KeyWestGwen