Working to Protect, Support Immigrants & Refugees, Sanctuary Cities in Mass.

sanctuary citiesVictor Morales, a Mexican-American citizen, spoke to The Rainbow Times about his experiences living in the country and the effects of President Trump’s recent executive orders
Photo: Victor Morales

By: Michael Givens/TRT Assistant Editor—

“Trump is going to take care of you.”

Javier, a Mexican immigrant, alleges that a customer at his job made this remark to him several times since President Donald Trump won the November 8 election.

The comment, meant as a threat in Javier’s opinion, was just one of several directed at him in the weeks and months after Trump’s victory. According to Javier, accusatory questions about his immigration status and insults telling him to “go home” have become a part of his daily work routine.

“Once the campaign rhetoric of Trump got going, [the customers] would start asking the questions,” he said.

Like many Mexican immigrants, Javier, who asked not be identified by his real name, moved to the United States to escape violence, a poor economy, and to simply “find a better life.” With a wife and two children, Javier has lived in Massachusetts for 17 years and has worked in the same customer service job for 16 years. Working a second job as a landscaper, Javier estimates that he works roughly 100 hours a week to care for his family.

Javier said that several of the customers, including the one who made the ominous threat, have started referring to him as “El Chapo,” a reference to Joaquín Guzmán, an internationally known alleged drug trafficker in Mexico who made headlines for his bold escape attempts from law enforcement. Guzmán is currently in federal custody in the United States awaiting trial on several charges related to running a criminal enterprise.

“I try to tell him to stop, but he does it every day,” Javier said of the particularly difficult customer he deals with. “It’s his way of amusing himself.”

On December 20, more than a month after the presidential election, Javier said he’d reached his breaking point. According to him, a coworker left a threatening note about “ … damn Mexicans … ” that instructed him to “ … go home … ”

“It was an act of aggression,” he said, one that deeply upset him and made him fearful.

Javier said that his supervisor has done nothing about the harassment.

“I’m very concerned and worried about the direction Trump is taking on national immigration policy,” he said, noting that prior to Trump’s campaign and controversial stance on undocumented immigrants, his customers and co-workers were not hostile to him.

Across Massachusetts, immigrants like Javier are having similar experiences of feeling threatened and at risk of deportation under Trump’s administration. In response, several cities and towns are making extended efforts to ensure they are safe spaces for immigrants, both documented and undocumented, that live in the Commonwealth.

Municipalities Providing Safe Spaces

In 2011, Amherst became the first jurisdiction to implement policies protecting immigrants and refugees.

“The Amherst Police Department does not have the authority to enforce federal immigration laws, unless it is granted by the federal government, which it currently is not,” reads a portion of an Amherst Police Department directive in August of that year.

“The Amherst Police Department will not independently conduct sweeps or other concentrated efforts to detain or identify suspected undocumented aliens,” according to a later section of the directive, which does allow for the assistance of Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) only under the circumstances of a specific request from the agency and the consent of the chief of police.

Responding to a controversial 2012 immigrant detention program launched by the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) named Secure Communities, the Town of Amherst voted overwhelmingly in May of that year to opt out of any activities related to monitoring the movements of undocumented immigrants. The Secure Communities program required local law enforcement officials to collect immigration data related to arrested individuals in cities and towns across the nation.

Two years later in May of 2014, Somerville Mayor Joseph Curtatone signed an executive order expressly forbidding law enforcement from detaining undocumented immigrants for the purposes of handing them over to federal authorities. The Rainbow Times attempted to interview the Mayor for this piece, but his office did not respond to repeated requests for an interview.

In June of 2014, the Cambridge City Council voted unanimously to pass an ordinance protecting undocumented immigrants from police detention.

“I think people generally feel Cambridge is maintaining our sense of diversity and inclusiveness, even as there is a more generalized anxiety about the national climate,” said Cambridge Mayor E. Denise Simmons.

The President has made several threats against municipalities who refuse to comply with his demands that they acquiesce to ICE’s efforts to implement detention programs across the country. The most high-profile threat has been the withholding of federal funds from these cities and towns who rely on the revenue to provide public services.

“I am concerned that the President may target Cambridge due to our status as a Sanctuary City, although it is not yet clear if he has the discretion or legal authority to specifically punish communities by withholding funds,” said Simmons. “The City provides education, housing, health and other services to all our residents, regardless of their immigration status.

“We receive approximately 14 million dollars in federal funds that help support these initiatives, so the concern is that the President could seek to withhold funds for these programs. This represents just a fraction of the City’s overall budget, and should the Trump Administration follow through with this threat, the city manager and the city council will take whatever steps we must to ensure that our programs continue to run and serve our constituents.”

At roughly the same time the Cambridge City Council passed its ordinance, the Boston City Council did the same. In early February, Boston Mayor Marty Walsh made national headlines when he publicly rebuked the President’s executive orders and subsequent threats of withholding federal funds from the city. Boston receives about $250 million in federal funding.

In February, the Boston City Council created a special committee in response to the President’s executive orders. The creation of the Special Committee on Civil Rights has , “ … taken another affirmative step towards protecting and defending all Bostonians,” according to City Councilor Josh Zakim, who chairs the committee.

According to a press release the committee will:

… concern itself with matters relating to equal access to education,

housing, employment and health care services. The committee shall have jurisdiction

over matters relating to city, state, and federal laws prohibiting discrimination. The

committee shall concern itself with exploring the development of programs and/or

legislation to ensure that all are able to safely and fully participate in the civic life of our

city and our economy. The committee shall explore opportunities for city agencies,

non-governmental organizations, and individuals to work together to protect the civil

rights and civil liberties of all Bostonians. The committee shall concern itself with

promoting equal and fair access to public and private services and facilities for all

residents, regardless of race, color, national origin, national ancestry, creed, sex, sexual

orientation, gender identity and expression, age or disability.

Boston is also considering the production and distribution of a municipal identification card, which would provide immigrants an official form of identification. The card would also be beneficial for the homeless, elderly residents, and transgender people.

Also in February, Boston City Councilor and mayoral candidate Tito Jackson announced plans to launch an immigrant defense fund to help support immigrants attempting to obtain citizenship. Still in its early stages, city officials are hoping that the project can be privately funded.

In August 2014, Northampton Mayor David Narkewicz made the the city the fifth in the Commonwealth to provide explicit protections for immigrants and refugees. The Mayor issued a four-point executive order mandating that police not cooperate with non-criminal federal detention policies, ensuring that immigrants have access to police services in their native languages, and banning immigrants from being detained over traffic infractions.

“These are hard-working people who have not committed any crimes and they are trying to navigate a broken immigration system,” said Narkewicz in an interview with The Rainbow Times.

Narkewicz emphasized that the City of Northampton has been working to take in immigrants and refugees and currently has an agreement with a local nonprofit to accept 51 refugees into the city. In mid-February, Northampton welcomed an Iraqi/Kurdish family of three as part of the beginning of the program.

“Were exercising our right to not participate in a program that the Department of Homeland Security has made optional,” he said. “I don’t believe local police departments can be compelled to do the work of the federal government.”

Narkewicz also said that he believes what Trump is threatening is unconstitutional.

“It’s a great campaign slogan to say that I’m going to defund these … sanctuary cities … But in terms of actual implementation, I think that the President will find it much harder to do,” he said.

According to Narkewicz, Northampton received about $3.4 million in federal funding in its last fiscal year, $64,000 of which came from the Department of Homeland Security. Like many cities and towns across the country, the funds were earmarked for an array of public services, from free school lunch programs to large grants to build affordable housing for low-income families. However, he firmly stated his contention that he doesn’t think the President can completely withhold millions of dollars of funding for public services over non-compliance with an immigration policy.

“I don’t actually think that there’s a way they can defund us,” he said, noting his belief that detainer requests are a violation of the Fourth Amendment prohibiting illegal searches and seizures and the Tenth Amendment, the delegation of power and control to the states in areas where the US Constitution has not expressly empowered the federal government. Rather than focusing on these Draconian measures … the federal government should focus on reforming our immigration system.”

Just 11 miles to the south of Northampton is Holyoke, which became the sixth jurisdiction to pass what has commonly been referred to as a “Trust Act” policy to protect immigrants. In November of 2014, Holyoke Mayor Alex Morse signed an executive order protecting immigrants within the city from federal detainer policies. The City of Holyoke received roughly $19.5 million in federal funding in its last fiscal year.

Morse has publicly denounced Trump’s executive orders and like several other mayors across the Commonwealth, has pledged to fight them. The Mayor did not respond to a request by The Rainbow Times for an interview.

Holyoke City Councilor Jossie Valentin says that Trump’s stance on immigrants has caused a significant amount of division within the country.

“It is amazing how quickly some forget that we are a nation of immigrants,” she said. “The message being conveyed by President Trump continues to be erratic, divisive, and wrong. We all need to rise and resist—at all levels of government.”

Battles Being Waged

August 2015 saw Lawrence becoming the seventh city in the state to enact a Trust Act ordinance banning the use of local law enforcement resources for federal immigration detainers.

In December, City Councilor Susan Albright introduced an ordinance with the Newton City Council calling for the prohibition of law enforcement from conducting federal immigration detention activities. At one point, Newton Mayor Setti Warren had also introduced his own version of the ordinance.

By mid-January, the issue had caused heated debate amongst Newton residents. A city council hearing saw opponents and proponents sound off on the ordinance, but in a February 21 city council vote, the ordinance was passed.

“I’m thrilled that Newton is standing with the other cities and towns in Massachusetts and across the country in supporting the immigrants who live here and work here in peace and contribute to our lives,” said Albright.

The councilor said that she understands the concerns of some Newton residents about the issue of federal funding, but emphasized her contention, similar to that of Mayor Narkewicz, that the federal government cannot deny municipalities federal funding for a broad set of public services over one issue. Her greater concern, she said, is for the immigrants who are currently being detained.

“My only concern is that the President has stepped up his deportation efforts. There are people who are being rounded up for minor crimes,” she said. “It’s not good for America, it’s not good for the people, it’s not good for our values and principles. I hope our people will rally together and support immigrants, which is the foundation of our government, the foundation of our country.”

During the time Newton city councilors were debating the merits of their ordinance, both Chelsea and Lawrence took up their own fight with the federal government. Both cities have been known as jurisdictions with large immigrant populations, particularly large Latinx populations and the President’s executive orders caused both cities to come together to sue the federal government.

“On February 8, the Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights and Economic Justice (LCCREJ) filed the first civil rights challenge to the constitutionality of President Trump’s executive order targeting ‘sanctuary jurisdictions’,” said Iván Espinoza-Madrigal, executive director of the LCCREJ, in an interview with The Rainbow Times. “The lawsuit focuses on [the] principles of federalism and separation of powers. Under the Tenth Amendment, the powers not delegated to the federal government are reserved for the states. Essentially, this means that state [and] local governments can set their own priorities based on community needs. The federal government cannot commandeer state [and] local resources. It cannot impose federal duties and responsibilities—including federal immigration enforcement—on local [and] state governments. Our lawsuit focuses on states’ rights and puts the Trump administration and the federal government back in its place under the Constitution.”

Espinoza-Madrigal said that the federal government has not yet responded to the lawsuit, but that defunding both cities would be incredibly detrimental to their residents.

“Most of the federal funding received by Chelsea and Lawrence supports critically important public programs … such as free school lunch,” he said. “Defunding sanctuary cities would hurt everyone in the community … regardless of immigration status. It’s deeply unfair [,] illegal and unconstitutional … to destabilize children, families, and communities in this manner.”

Espinoza-Madrigal noted that the City of Chelsea has an annual budget of $170 million, $14 million of which comes from the federal government. Lawrence has an annual budget of $245 million, $38 million of which comes from the federal government.

“Most of the federal funding supports public schools,” he said. “Chelsea and Lawrence are both working-class cities. Losing 10 to 15 percent of their funding would have a devastating effect on children and families.”

Several cities and towns are in the process of considering ordinances similar to the eight that have already been passed in Massachusetts including Acton, Boxborough, and Watertown. The Rainbow Times reached out to Springfield Mayor Domenic Sarno for a comment on his vocal opposition  to the municipality being labeled as a sanctuary city, but the mayor declined to be interviewed.

Worcester has also received media attention for the reticence of city officials to declare the jurisdiction a sanctuary city.

Sanctuary for Peace – Salem, Mass.

The Salem City Council is considering a “Sanctuary for Peace” ordinance with plans to hold an ad-hoc committee meeting on March 29 at Bentley School Cafetorium (25 Memorial Dr., Salem, Mass.) to discuss the ordinance in greater detail.

“The Sanctuary for Peace Ordinance is necessary for both the immigrant community—primarily of color and primarily speaking a language other than English—as well as the Salem community at large,” said City Councilor David Eppley, who’s playing a leading role in moving the ordinance to a vote. “When children of immigrants attending Salem public schools come to school crying about their fear of their parents being rounded up and deported, that is [a] reality check for the greater community.  Does this reflect Salem’s values?  I would [say] no.”

Elaine Milo, president of the City Council, said that she’s being very intentional about her decision whether to support the ordinance or not.

“I think it is important to take the time … to hear from constituents. I’ve begun a kind of ‘listening tour’ of neighborhood groups to gain additional feedback,” she said. “I’ve also had conversations with individual members of the group who put this ordinance together. I expect that the conversations will continue going forward.”

Milo said that she has some concerns about the language of the ordinance before the city council. Her chief concern is that the language focuses too specifically on undocumented immigrants to the exclusion of other groups.

“In short, I propose that we take the language of [the city’s current non-discrimination] ordinance, amend it to include undocumented immigrants and other appropriate language and go forward,” she said, noting that she is fully supportive of the spirit of the “Sanctuary for Peace” ordinance. “I think it is important that we take this opportunity to remind everyone in Salem that we have their backs. We don’t know the next group of people who may be under attack and we should be thinking ahead. My sense is that would go a long way with the majority of people in the community.

“This is not an easy conversation to have, especially at this time in our country,” she said, reporting that support for the ordinance amongst the constituents she’s spoken to is split 50/50. “I’m proud to live in a place where we are not afraid to look in the mirror and ask ourselves ‘How can we be a better community?’ I look forward to listening to residents’ answers to this question as we continue this very important discussion.”

“It’s an emotional tender box. Almost like the Hatfields and McCoys,” said City Councilor Thomas Furey referring to the legendary feud between two rural families in West Virginia and Kentucky in the late 1800s. Furey said he’s fully supportive of the ordinance and the spirit behind it.

Dr. Analyssa Gypsy Murphy, a Salem resident and Endicott College professor, said that there’s a lot riding on how the City Council votes on the ordinance.

“It seems to me frankly absurd that we even have to put this amount of energy into passing it,” she said. “[Not passing the ordinance] would mean that the majority of those people who seek to represent the city of Salem represents fear, hatemongering, and bigotry and not the people who live here and somehow don’t understand that a large portion of people who live here are in need of sanctuary.”

Salem Police Department Captain Conrad Prosniewski said that the ordinance, if passed or not, doesn’t affect the police department at all as the department has already established a policy concerning immigration status.

“What we’ll be doing in the future is what we’ve always done,” he said. “Getting the ordinance passed is giving immigrants a peace of mind in terms of what we do and what we don’t do. Our policy says that the Salem Police has no business [knowing] whether someone is a citizen or undocumented. Regardless of what someone’s status is, we provide equal protection to everyone.”

Salem Mayor Kim Driscoll said that she does not fear a reprisal from Trump if the ordinance is passed for two reasons. The first being that she believes it’s a violation of the Tenth Amendment, along with Espinoza-Madrigal and Narkewicz.

“The second is that the Ordinance, as it is written, does not violate the president’s executive order, nor does it violate federal law,” she said. “Salem Police will continue to communicate with federal law enforcement, as they do now. Criminals who are undocumented immigrants will not be shielded from arrest, conviction, and potential deportation by ICE if they are in Salem. These are the standards of the order and the law, and we will not contravene them.”

Ana Nuncio, president of Salem’s Latino Leadership Coalition (LLC), said she believes that there’s nothing controversial about the ordinance.

“It’s an exercise of self-reflection, a presentation of our values,” she contends.

Nuncio said that the ordinance is a “confirmation of a commitment” that Salem has long had to equity and justice for all.

City Councilor Beth Gerard said that in her conversations with her constituents, she’s been doing a lot of public education.

“It codifies whatever practices are already in place,” she said. “The police and City Hall are not immigration officials. When any of my constituents e-mail me whether they are for or against the sanctuary city concept … I’m sending them the draft ordinance and the Salem City Police Department policy. An informed constituency is a beneficial constituency.”

Gerard said that at the time of her interview with The Rainbow Times she had 70 e-mails from constituents and eight of them were opposed to the ordinance. Gerard said she always responds with key information about what the ordinance does and doesn’t do.

City Councilor Josh Turiel said that he believes that though he has a few questions around implementation of the ordinance, he finds it to be reasonable.

“ … although minimal, I think the risk is, based on sheer morality, one we should take,” he said, also saying that, in general, conversations with constituents in favor of the bill has been three-to-one in support.

Turiel said he disagrees with the “extreme vetting” proposed by Trump, but does believe that a minimal amount of due diligence should be conducted when welcoming new immigrants to the country.

“I personally believe in borders that are entirely open. I think that should be the goal for every nation … that said, I do believe that it’s perfectly fair to take people who want to migrate to our country and run basic background checks on them.”

On March 25, Salem No Place for Hate Community Engagement Sub-Committee will be hosting a city-wide rally in support of the Sanctuary for Peace Ordinance from 2-4:30 p.m. on the corner of Essex and Washington St. in downtown Salem.

The March 29 ad-hoc City Council meeting will be attended by all 11 Salem City Councilors and invitations are extended by city councilors to Salem residents and other elected officials to speak. The Rainbow Times attempted to interview all 11 city councilors, but did not receive responses from Councilors Arthur Sargent III, Jerry L. Ryan, Robert McCarthy, Heather Famico, Stephen Lovely, and Stephen Dibble.

Murphy said that voting in favor of this will set a historical precedent that historians will look upon years from now with respect.

“Passing this says that 75 years from now when scholars look back on this time we will be on the side of right and righteousness,” she said. “That when my great-great-great-grandchildren ask what I did in this time in history I can be proud and my conscience clear … “

The Effects of Fear

Victor Morales’ mother crossed the border from Mexico into the US 25 years ago, just so he could be born an American citizen. A graduate of the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) and a resident of Cambridge, Morales knows that his experience in this country is much different from many immigrants, but his concerns about Trump are very much the same.

“My first response has been fear,” he said, noting that he did not actually live in the US until the age of 7. “But the next response after that has been to immediately find people I can relate to, try to reason with them about what it is I’m feeling, and how we can at the very least, be supportive for people in this situation.”

Morales expressed frustrations with the political system in the country when it comes to finding solutions to address immigration that are balanced and fair.

“I believe conservatives are finding solutions that are not making sense, but liberals are doing the same thing,” he said. “I don’t think that liberals are really thinking about the issue that conservatives are bringing up, which is we have people coming into the country without permission and there’s no path to citizenship … So what is the solution? It seems that liberals are pointing to the solution of, ‘Well, let’s allow people to become citizens,’ whereas conservatives are [saying] the opposite and there’s no middle ground that says what is the standard, what is the minimum requirement to becoming a citizen.”

Morales said he knows several undocumented immigrants and has noticed that the current political atmosphere breeds a sense of terror and silence.

“I have a ton of friends who are undocumented … a lot of people who are LGBT are closeted and it’s the same with immigrants,” Morales said. “People who are immigrants often don’t want people to know their status and it should be pretty obvious as to why … it’s a justified fear … if the government were to find out certain information, we could get in serious trouble.

We are deliberately hiding and it’s not this sense of, ‘I know I’m a criminal, I know I’m doing bad things, I want to hide.’ It’s more of a sense of, ‘I’m doing the best I can. I ran away from evil, I came from a place where there was violence. I came from a country where I could not survive and I came to the United States looking for peace, looking for a job … wanting to work [hard] and instead, what I’m finding is racism … people who don’t want to understand what I’m going through … people who want me to get in trouble and our law labels us as criminals. And people take it one step further and label us as illegals.”

Javier knows well the fear of being exposed as undocumented.

“We live in constant fear of the police knocking at our door,” he said, even going so far as to say that he’s witnessed dangerous behavior on the part of young people under the influence of drugs and alcohol, but has not approached the police out of fear of being questioned about his status.

“It’s unfortunate that [immigrants] feel that way, but I think the fear is because of a lack of education,” said Captain Prosniewski of the Salem Police Department. “Nobody from a local police department is going to ask anybody about their status when they’re trying to report information to them that is going to be beneficial to the rest of the community.

“So if someone who is undocumented is afraid to talk to the local police because they are in fear that it will filter from the police to the federal government and ICE agents are going to knock on their door, that’s not going to happen. There is no mechanism for that to happen.”

Espinoza-Madrigal of the LCCREJ said that the divide between immigrant communities and the police are the reason why local ordinances are vital.

“As a public safety matter, it’s dangerous to have immigrants afraid of interacting with police and local officials,” he said. “This is precisely why sanctuary policies are critical for public safety. They allow victims and witnesses of crime to come forward to report incidents and to collaborate with law enforcement. If immigrants don’t trust local police—and if they see police as deportation officers—they will go deeper into the shadows. This makes all of us unsafe.”

John Robbins of the Council on American-Islamic Relations (CAIR) said that the cumulative effect of the executive orders and the heightened fear of deportation detrimentally impacts the Muslim community.

“Here in Boston, we’ve encountered countless families whose lives have been torn apart because of the Muslim ban, children who are bullied mercilessly at school, women who wear the headscarf who are afraid to go out in public, and direct assaults of visibly Muslim individuals on the street in Quincy, Malden, and Cambridge,” he said.

Dr. Alexandra Piñeros-Shields, executive director for the Essex County Community Organization (ECCO), a nonprofit on the North Shore that advocates for racial justice, said that the Trump administration’s executive orders and the fear they’ve spread have illustrated a very dark side to this country.

“We are now living through a big jump in what has been an ongoing move towards the building of a police state,” she said. “Muslims, immigrants and all others who have been historically dehumanized and othered are the canaries in the mine. Their suffering and pain expose the political and economic toxicities in the mine, which, of course, will eventually affect us all. Everyone’s human rights are at stake; our democracy is at stake.”

Espinoza-Madrigal said that deportation fears only perpetuate hostility and marginalization.

“Undocumented immigrants live under the specter of immigration enforcement,” he said. If they perceive local officials as deportation officers, they will not come forward for basic services such as police and fire protection. For immigrants pushed deeper into the shadows, even immunization for children—a basic public health measure—could be deemed too risky.”

Workable Resolutions Needed

“Building a wall is not a viable solution,” said Morales. “We understand that this only creates more division. This will only create more problems. This is money that the US or Mexico cannot pay.”

Javier agrees. His 20-year-old daughter has aspirations of becoming a psychiatrist and is working on a degree in psychology at a local Massachusetts university and he lives in fear that if deported, he will not be able to financially support her. He said he also worries deeply for his pre-teen son.

“I’m totally against Trump’s political rhetoric,” he said. “I’m totally against his stance against the entire Mexican and immigrant communities. He’s not the right person to be in office as the president. He’s not professional. He’s not fit to be president.”

And as for the wall, Javier says that barriers never stop people from escaping poverty, tragedy, and violence for a better life.

“It’s not a good idea. It’s a futile cause. Mexicans will find a way to cross to where they must go.”


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1 Comment on "Working to Protect, Support Immigrants & Refugees, Sanctuary Cities in Mass."

  1. It is quite interesting to read the comments of a few of the elected officials.

    “Walking and speaking tours” are simply a way to measure which way the wind is blowing so that in an election year a city or state official can gauge where the votes are. Stand up and be counted one way or the other and then live or die by your convictions.

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