Anti-immigration resolution fails in St. Charles County
In a courtroom packed wall to wall on Monday night, an anti-immigration resolution that was tabled two weeks ago was officially cast down in a 3-3 vote by the St. Charles County Council.
Supporters on the seven-person council first brought up the symbolic resolution on Nov. 13, but the matter was tabled to allow time for all in favor of it to be present. Co-sponsor Matt Swanson was absent Monday night.
Celebratory cheers broke the silence in the room at the St. Charles County Executive Office Building after the result was called.
Arrey Obenson, president and CEO of the International Institute of St. Louis, said the resolution distorts the work his organization does. The institute, located in Tower Grove East, offers economic and cultural integration services, English classes, employment, orientation and citizenship preparation to refugees and immigrants.
“Having a resolution that talks about illegal migrants mischaracterizes the work we do, and this doesn’t speak well of our region,” Obenson said Monday. “Our Latino outreach program seeks to bring people here, not turn them away.”
Council member Joe Brazil introduced the resolution after the International Institute announced an effort to build the area’s workforce with immigrants through its Latino Outreach Program. Brazil criticized the Biden administration’s program as having illegally brought the immigrants to the U.S. Missouri is one of 20 states fighting the program in court.
“This is about the federal government not following the constitution and the law,” Brazil said Monday of President Biden’s immigration program. “It is not on a case-by-case basis, and it has no public benefit.”
Brazil said the resolution was misinterpreted as being anti-immigration, when it’s really against the administration's program. The resolution reads in part:
“The St. Charles County Council hereby recommends not accepting any migrants into our region until the lawsuit challenging the Program has been resolved,” reads Substitution Resolution 23-08. “The St. Charles County Council welcomes all legal migrants and encourages those who wish to migrate into the St. Louis Metropolitan region to follow all applicable federal and state laws.”
The resolution was sponsored by council members Swanson, Brazil and Tim Baker. But, there was also opposition to the divisive measure within the board.
Councilman Mike Elam said the resolution is “nothing more than political grandstanding” and added the St. Charles County Council does not have jurisdiction over immigration to the region. St. Louis is losing population, the councilman noted, adding St. Charles leaders need to find ways to work across the region to turn the tide.
“Resolutions like this, as you can see in this room, do not represent a positive aspect [of the region],” Elam said during the Monday night meeting. “We have to be positive voice in the region. We need to take a broader view and we need to get to the table.”
Advocates from various organizations held signs in the courthouse Monday that read “No human is illegal” and “Immigrants are welcome here.” Several attorneys, lawmakers and community advocates took to the mic to share experiences sympathetic to immigrants.
Others expressed concern about St. Louis becoming overcrowded.
The U.S. government announced a plan in January to provide secure pathways into the United States for up to 30,000 migrants each month from Cuba, Haiti, Nicaragua and Venezuela, according to the American Immigration Council. Also known as the Humanitarian Parole Program, it permits people from these countries to legally live and work in the U.S. for two years. Applicants must have a sponsor in the U.S. and must pass a background check.
Contrary to what Brazil has said, government officials said cases are often handled on a case-by-case basis under the program, which also prevents applicants from requesting asylum under U.S. immigration law.
The federal government has characterized the new rule as a means for continuing to regulate immigration since the expiration of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s Title 42 public health order. That policy gave authorities greater ability to bar immigrants from illegally crossing the border during the COVID-19 pandemic.
Prior to this program, the government used humanitarian parole between summer 2021 and October 2022, allowing the U.S. entry of Afghan and Ukrainian refugees under the Uniting for Ukraine program.
Gabby Eissner, community organizer at the St. Louis Interfaith Committee on Latin America, said the resolution was meant to stir up racism and xenophobia.
“We’re feeling really good that there was such a strong show of community opposition to this resolution,” Eissner said. “I was here two weeks ago when the resolution was introduced and [seeing] how many people were mobilized in such a short time after the resolution was tabled is really a show of how much power we’ve built, and it shows the community wants immigrants in our community.”
Other groups, including the Hispanic Bar Association of St. Louis, also called on the county council to reject the resolution.
The resolution “is at best an uninformed pronouncement based on clearly erroneous statements of fact and law, or at worst a proclamation promoting and supporting xenophobic and racist attitudes against Latin American migrants as well as United States Citizens of Latin American descent based on willful ignorance of the facts and the Law,” the group said in a written statement.
St. Louis 7th Ward Alderwoman Alisha Sonnier, in a letter pinned to the county council, asked that members be compassionate. She said Monday that the conversation needed to focus on matters where people have a say.
“There are many issues that are under local control, like public transit, the unhoused population, the [Zoo-Museum] district — these are all things that are regionally used and are regional problems that we could use taxpayer dollars and taxpayer time to address,” Sonnier said.