A clash is looming in Roseville over a bid to make it the first suburb in the state to become a sanctuary city.
The City Council has agreed to take up the subject this summer, the result of a two-day, city-sponsored citizen engagement effort focused on issues of race and ethnicity that produced a strong turnout and a forceful push to support immigrants.
“People were clearly on the side of ‘Let’s figure this out’ instead of ‘We don’t want this to happen,’ ” said Catalina Morales, immigration specialist for Isaiah, a faith-based group for racial and economic equity.
But city officials warned participants in a series of sessions this month to brace for a backlash as word gets out, since not everyone will be quite as enthused.
Activist Kathy Ramundt, who is pushing for an ordinance, said proponents “will show up in force,” but she fears the council “will find it easier not to move forward” in the present climate.
Michelle Manke, a member of the Roseville Human Rights, Inclusion and Engagement Commission, said she’s more conservative than some on the panel and is not sure that the type of person who turns up at racial dialogue events speaks for the wider community.
“There’s this kind of core group of people who come out to a lot of things,” she said, “and are very boisterous on their opinions of stuff. People who are less boisterous say they like this city just the way it is, and why is all this happening? But it can be harder to get that pulse from the other side.”
On at least one flash point, the city is reassuring: Officials told participants at the latest Imagine Roseville event that the city gets little or nothing directly from the federal government, so residents shouldn’t worry in case threatened cuts become real.
“Any federal funding is a small, small part of our budget,” Mayor Dan Roe said Friday, “and would not be a significant factor in our thinking even if it were coming to us directly.
On paper, Roseville offers a combustible mix. Its percentage of older citizens is among the highest in the metro. But the city also is seeing big changes, as suggested by the Imagine Roseville discussion series, being held “to ensure Roseville is a community where people make connections amid changing demographics.”
The city’s police department already has an unwritten practice of not asking people for their immigration status as part of its routine activities, Roe said. The question put to citizens at the sessions was where it should land on a spectrum from proactive immigration enforcement to the opposite end.
“We were not directing anyone down a particular path,” he said.
The suburb’s median age is over 40, putting it in the same ballpark as rural cities like Grand Rapids or Fergus Falls. But its diversity has risen to the point where, at 25 percent people of color, it’s just shy of a diversity poster-child city like poultry-processing center Willmar (at 29 percent).
“We are a city of older people of German or Norwegian ancestry, and we haven’t seen [diverse] areas like St. Paul or Minneapolis has,” Manke said. She added that Roseville does have diverse “pockets,” notably in the southeast corner where many Burmese refugees of the Karen community live.
That’s where city officials worry about blight and concentrated poverty, and they’re taking steps to revitalize the area. They are seeking to couple that effort with an outreach to immigrants, including celebrations of newly naturalized Americans — a ceremony that was held Wednesday at the Roseville Skating Center.
Still, the mayor warned Imagine Roseville participants that the vibe at a City Council public hearing is liable to be more heated than at their discussions. He is urging residents who want to learn more to seek out “Imagine Roseville discussion series” on YouTube for videos of past sessions.
One factor in the push to support immigrants, Roe said, has been the faith communities in and around Roseville that either have stepped forward as sanctuaries themselves or been supportive of others taking that step.
Roe said he couldn’t predict where the City Council will end up on the issue.
“As with any action, the only way to know is to take a vote,” he said. “But we do already have an unwritten policy. Even if the council didn’t take it up, in essence that would stay in place.”