WHEELING — Could Wheeling be going the way of Los Angeles? One local group hopes so.
Although city leaders say they have no interest in doing so, a rally is planned at the City-County Building on Friday to urge them to turn Wheeling into a sanctuary city.
The Eclosion Collective, an Ohio Valley anarchist group, suggested the idea by scheduling a 3 p.m. demonstration at 1500 Chapline St. The group is asking supporters of Wheeling becoming a sanctuary city to show up and seek action from Wheeling City Council.
In response, Facebook events for two counter protests have popped up, and they’ve collected strong comments from Ohio Valley residents who would rather the city not disobey federal law or harbor undocumented people.
A sanctuary city is a municipality which has adopted particular policies to protect unauthorized immigrants. The designation does not have an exact legal meaning, but it may prohibit local law enforcement from questioning individuals based on their citizenship status or city police handing immigrants over to federal authorities.
At least 39 American cities fall under the label. The term has received new life since the election of President Donald Trump, and since Trump signed an executive order to ban the immigration of refugees from seven predominantly Muslim countries. Los Angeles was the first to adopt the designation in 1979.
A spokesperson for the Eclosion Collective said the group believes all people, no matter immigration status, deserve equal protection, a chance to create a decent life and the opportunity to move between borders. They said the group does not want the Wheeling Police Department to work with Immigration and Customs Enforcement or the United States Border Patrol.
The collective, which organized a solidarity march in August at Heritage Port for amending Wheeling’s human rights ordinance to include housing and employment protections for lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender residents, did not present an exact request directly to Wheeling City Council ahead of announcing Friday’s rally. Rather, the group hopes to organize like minds with this demonstration and measure interest before presenting an official request.
Vice Mayor Chad Thalman said he and other city officials are aware of the scheduled rallies, but he said no one from the city has expressed interest in sanctuary city status. Thalman encouraged all to express their opinions, yet said he personally does not feel it is his place to tell the police who to arrest. Mayor Glenn Elliott did not return a call seeking comment.
Trump signed an executive order on Jan. 25 to deny sanctuary cities federal funds, "except as mandated by law." The city of San Francisco filed suit against this measure on Jan. 31 with the belief the order is unconstitutional because it aims to turn city and state employees into federal immigration enforcers.
Sanctuary cities across the country receive an estimated $27 billion in federal money annually. Wheeling receives about $1.5 million in Community Development Block Grant funds each year from the United States Department of Housing and Urban Development for projects connected to low-income communities.
According to the 2010 United States census, Wheeling held a population which was 90.6 percent white; 5.1 percent black; 0.2 percent American Indian; 0.9 percent Asian; 0.9 percent Hispanic; and 2.4 percent of mixed race.
Counter protest events titled "Protest the Protest: We Do Not Want Wheeling as a Sanctuary City" and "If You Want to Resist the Government Then We Will Resist You" have sourced impassioned responses on Facebook. People have posted their concerns for safety and their interest in adhering to the law.