Opposition increases in Easthampton to being a sanctuary city

Wednesday, January 11, 2017

EASTHAMPTON — On Monday, city councilors received 84 additional signatures from residents opposed to Easthampton being designated a sanctuary city, a topic that will be the center of discussion before a council subcommittee Wednesday night.

By declaring itself a sanctuary city, Easthampton would forbid the use of municipal funds to assist federal agencies in seeking out and penalizing undocumented immigrants, and prohibit municipal employees from inquiring about individuals’ immigration status.

The signatures add to more than 140 signatures previously received by councilors on the issue.

“We wish to make it known that we, residents of Easthampton, are opposed to making Easthampton a sanctuary city,” the documents signed by the residents state.

The designation of Easthampton as a sanctuary city is the only item on an agenda for the council’s Ordinance Subcommittee when it meets Wednesday night at 6 p.m. in the second floor meeting room at the Municipal Building at 50 Payson Avenue. Councilors anticipate the meeting will draw a larger crowd than usual for its twice-monthly meetings.

Ordinance Subcommittee Chair Salem Derby said he has been preparing for the meeting by reviewing cities and towns that have passed similar measures.

“I’ve been doing my homework,” he said. “I’ve gotten tons of emails and I have read each one.”

For those who did not attend an earlier sanctuary city informational meeting organized by American Friends Service Committee of Western Massachusetts, Derby said he hopes Wednesday’s meeting will be another chance for residents to learn about the topic.

While more than 200 residents signed a documents opposing the designation of a sanctuary city, councilors received emails expressing opinions for and against the proposed measure.

“Designation as a sanctuary city will alienate people that believe in the law, it will alienate law enforcement,” John Ewell wrote to City Council. “It will make more people suspicious of outsiders, it will draw outsiders — either that disagree or that want to take advantage of an acceptance of defying Federal authority.”

Some in opposition say that a resolution or executive order designating Easthampton as a sanctuary city is unlawful.

“Designating Easthampton may cause Easthampton to lose federal funding regarding law enforcement funding,” Donald Torrey said in an email who gathered the signatures. “Losing federal funding could cause our taxes to increase or cuts in our police department.”

Dana Salisbury is in favor of the designation and sees the issue from a personal perspective.

“My grandparents came here as immigrants driven from their homes to escape persecution and poverty,” Salisbury wrote to City Councilors. “At first, they were met with hostility and yet they, and countless others like them, came, stayed and prospered. We are all Americans now. Let us support those who are coming next.”

But some say immigrants need to be documented.

“My family continues to wait overseas for the proper immigration paperwork,” Edward Konicki wrote to City Councilors. “All illegal immigrants regardless of age must be arrested and put in jail then deported at their own expense.”

Bonnie Atkins and Alice Barber wrote to the City Council stating that they are strong believers in finding paths for citizenship and support efforts to be a welcoming community to new comers and current residents who do not have legal status.

“We believe in supporting local police, fire and emergency personnel in the extraordinary ways they care for our city and do not want our law enforcement to become part of federal initiatives to ‘round up’ community members,” Atkins and Barber wrote. “We are concerned that the most vulnerable among us, children, will be subjected to fear and the traumatizing effects of deportation in the future.”

Others in support say the sanctuary city designation will make Easthampton a safe haven for undocumented immigrants.

“By passing the sanctuary city resolution, we take a positive step towards strengthening our entire city,” Andrew Goulet wrote to City Council. “I would like our city to focus on safety for all residents, and act with compassion as we move forward.”

Caitlin Ashworth can be reached at cashworth@gazettenet.com.