Somerville’s Controversial Subject of Sanctuary Cities Back In The News

By Bob Katzen 

   The controversial subject of sanctuary cities is back in the news following the election of Donald Trump. “We will end the sanctuary cities that have resulted in so many needless deaths,” Trump said in an August speech on immigration. “Cities that refuse to cooperate with federal authorities will not receive taxpayer dollars, and we will work with Congress to pass legislation to protect those jurisdictions that do assist federal authorities.”
   Last week the Democratic mayors of several cities including New York, Chicago, Seattle, Newark, San Francisco, Los Angeles, Santa Fe, Denver, Providence and Washington, D.C. vowed that they will not cooperate with the Trump administration’s policy on deportation of illegal immigrants. 
   “To all those who are, after Tuesday’s election, very nervous and filled with anxiety … you are safe in Chicago, you are secure in Chicago and you are supported in Chicago,” Mayor Rahm Emanuel said at a news conference. He noted that Chicago has been and will always be a sanctuary city.
   According to Aspen Law Offices, a New York City-based law firm that specializes in immigration issues, “Sanctuary city is a name given to a city in the United States that follows certain procedures that shelter illegal immigrants. The term most commonly is used for cities that do not permit municipal funds or resources to be applied in furtherance of enforcement of federal immigration laws. These cities normally do not permit police or municipal employees to inquire about one’s immigration status.” 
   Massachusetts currently has five sanctuary cities: Cambridge, Chelsea, Northampton, Somerville and Springfield. 
   Chelsea City Manager Thomas Ambrosino told Beacon Hill Roll Call, “I’m happy that the Massachusetts House rejected an effort to penalize municipalities that seek to provide safety and dignity to immigrants, regardless of their documentation status.”  
   None of the four mayors of the other sanctuary cities responded to a request for a comment from Beacon Hill Roll Call.
   In April 2016, the Massachusetts House 34-124, voted against an amendment that would withhold local aid from any cities or towns that do not enforce federal immigration laws. The vote was strictly along party lines with all Republicans voting in favor of the amendment and all Democrats opposing it.
   At that time, amendment supporters said cities and towns that encourage law-breaking are hurting this nation. They pointed to the murder of 32-year-old Kate Steinle, allegedly killed by illegal immigrant Juan Francisco Lopez-Sanchez, while walking on the street with her father in San Francisco, a sanctuary city. Lopez-Sanchez, a Mexican national, had been deported five times for multiple felonies.
  Some amendment opponents said they support sanctuary cities and noted that some individuals are here because of political asylum. Others said they oppose sanctuary cities but do not support cutting off local aid as punishment.
   Last week, Rep. Geoff Diehl (R-Whitman), the sponsor of the amendment told Beacon Hill Roll Call, “Whether federal or state money, our tax dollars should not be going to communities that are not abiding by our laws. Taxpayers should not fund cities that protect illegal immigrants with criminal backgrounds. Not only do they put their own residents at risk, but also they jeopardize the safety of citizens in surrounding towns.”
  Fellow Republican Rep. Marc Lombardo (R-Billerica) has filed similar legislation that would withhold all state aid except education funds. “Estimates show nearly $2 billion annually is spent in Massachusetts on benefits for those who don’t qualify,” said Lombardo. “It’s time to stop this funding and stop Massachusetts from being a magnet to illegal immigrants.”

   Rep. Christine Barber (D-Somerville) opposed the amendment. “[Somerville] is safer and more welcoming because we do not single out immigrants based solely on their documentation status,” she said. “Somerville will not turn its back on protections for immigrants, despite the election of Donald Trump.”
   Gov. Charlie Baker opposes cutting off funds. “I think decisions about how communities want to manage their public safety issues and their community issues belong to them and they should make whatever decisions they make,” Baker said. “Then it’s incumbent on our administration and on our congressional delegation to work hard to make sure that our state continues to receive the federal support that we’ve previously been able to secure.”

   Here is the House 34-124, vote that rejected the amendment to withhold local aid from any cities or towns that do not enforce federal immigration laws.
   (A “Yes” vote is for cutting off funds. A “No” vote is against cutting off funds.)

 Rep. Christine Barber No Rep. Denise Provost No Rep. Timothy Toomey No                                      

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