‘Sanctuary city’ status is a ball of confusion
By Evan Lips | August 21, 2015, 14:29 EST
The number of Massachusetts “sanctuary cities,” local communities that officially refuse to cooperate with U.S. Immigration and Customs (ICE) officials, grew by one earlier this month.
The decision by the Lawrence City Council to become a “sanctuary city” brings the Massachusetts grand total to seven. Lawrence joins Cambridge, Chelsea, Northampton, Orleans, Somerville and Springfield.
But research indicates that the “sanctuary city” designation isn’t quite so cut-and-dry.
City councilors in Worcester, for example, failed to adopt a “sanctuary city” policy in 2007, instead tabling the measure. Worcester city records indicate that the Human Rights Commission, a panel comprised of elected officials, tabled the matter again in 2011.
But although Worcester has not adopted a formal “sanctuary city” policy, police have abandoned the practice of fingerprinting arrestees and forwarding their records to ICE officials, as required by federal law, and Police Chief Gary J. Gemme told the Worcester Telegram earlier this month that his department has no plans to do so.
Gemme declined to say whether Worcester is, or should be, a “sanctuary city.” But, in an email to the Telegram, Gemme stated that “the department cannot properly serve our large, law-abiding immigrant community if there is a perception that we are more concerned with a person’s immigration status than we are to provide their safety and security.”
A review of the police department’s booking procedures shows a lengthy policy regarding the handling of “foreign nationals” who have been arrested. The policy does not distinguish however between arrestees who have entered the U.S. legally and those who have entered illegally. The policy instructs booking officers to recite the following:
Punishment for unintended consequences
Earlier this month, Louisiana governor and GOP presidential hopeful Bobby Jindal caused a firestorm when he told Boston Herald Radio that mayors of “sanctuary cities,” such as Somerville Mayor Joseph Curtatone, should be brought up on federal charges if their cities release an illegal immigrant under a criminal deportation order and that person later commits a violent crime.
“Absolutely, I would hold them as an accomplice and make them criminally culpable,” Jindal said. “I’d also make them civilly liable so that a victim’s family could sue, especially if the prosecutors are not taking action.”
The issue rose to national prominence in July after a young woman was randomly gunned down at a San Francisco tourist spot by an illegal Mexican immigrant who had been deported five times and possessed a criminal history that included seven felony convictions.
San Francisco, a “sanctuary city,” has adopted the same approach as Somerville, in that police officers are prohibited from inquiring about the immigration status of arrestees. Unlike Worcester, Somerville officially adopted the policy in 1987, when the Somerville City Council passed a resolution by a vote of 9-2 that the city’s “2,000-4,000 illegal immigrants are entitled to some of the basic rights and privileges as regular city residents.”
Mayor Daniel Rivera, the mayor of Lawrence, said that he would never support a measure that officially designates his municipality as a “sanctuary city.”
But last week, Lawrence city councilors voted 7-2 “largely along ethnic lines” to adopt “sanctuary city” policies.
The margin of victory prohibits Rivera from vetoing the measure, but in a statement provided to the Boston Globe, Rivera said he nonetheless opposes the measure because he “can’t support any effort that takes tools off the table for our police department.”
Gov. Charlie Baker, however, does have the power of a veto and has said he will use it if the state Legislature passes the so-called “Trust Act,” which would prohibit police in the state’s cities and towns from cooperating with federal immigration officials except in cases involving dangerous suspects and criminals.
According to the Massachusetts Immigrant and Refugee Advocacy Coalition, the Trust Act “would provide clear guidelines to police in Massachusetts about cooperation with immigration detainers and requests for information-sharing by Immigration and Customs Enforcement” and “would conserve local resources for local public safety priorities, protect our state and localities from potential liability for violating residents’ constitutional rights, and help our police restore strong, cooperative relationships with immigrant communities.”
On Wednesday, amnesty advocates who are upset with the governor’s position descended on Beacon Hill and demanded to meet with Baker to discuss his veto stance. Baker was in Ohio at the time, dropping his daughter off at college.
State Rep. Christine Barber (D-Somerville) was among those who spoke at the rally and said she is proud of her city’s pro-immigrant stance.
“More than a third of my constituents were born in another country,” she said. “There’s been some misinformation. The vast majority of undocumented immigrants are playing by the rules.
“Immigrants have played a huge role in our country for hundreds of years. I’m proud to stand with them today as they work for justice.”
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