Easthampton City Council advances sanctuary city plan

Published: 12/8/2016 12:43:09 AM

EASTHAMPTON — A movement to have Easthampton declare itself a “sanctuary city” took a small step forward Wednesday, though about half of the 50 people who showed up at a City Council meeting argued against the idea.

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.

Northampton and Amherst have approved similar measures in recent years.

But the idea rubs some in Easthampton the wrong way. Kristina Sears, an Easthampton nurse, argued that the designation is not right.

“They’re here illegally,” said Sears. “A nation is defined by its order, its laws and its people ... There are people that wait years to come here, legally.”

Others said they thought it might make the community less safe and cost money.

Supporters of the idea believe it will serve as a safeguard against the community from using local resources to enforce federal immigration laws.

“What a sanctuary city designation implies is that municipalities will not use their resources to conduct federal immigration law,” said Jeff Napolitano, director and program coordinator for American Friends Service Committee.

Other supporters fear what President-elect Donald Trump’s administration will do in terms of immigration.

After an hour-long public comment period, the council voted unanimously to move forward with Councilor Jennifer Hayes’ request to designate Easthampton as a so-called sanctuary city.

The council also advanced another request by Hayes to create a human rights committee.

The requests will move to the city’s ordinance subcommittee for further discussion and drafting. While the motions were moved forward, City Council President Joseph McCoy said there will be more meetings and opportunities for public comment.

The idea for the creation of a human rights committee is a response to an incident on Mount Tom where anti-Semitic and hateful graffiti was painted on the rocks.

At the council’s Nov. 16 meeting, Hayes said, “I want to state very clearly and publicly that bigotry and discrimination will not be tolerated in our community. To those concerned and fearful of what 2017 may bring us, please know that I hear you, that I’m with you, and I will fight for you.”

Sanctuary city petition

Hayes proposed the sanctuary city idea after receiving an email with about 50 signatures from residents calling for the measure.

The email states that “Easthampton would forbid the use of municipal funds for assisting federal agencies in seeking out and penalizing undocumented immigrants, and prohibit municipal employees from inquiring about individuals’ immigration status.”

According to Mayor Karen Cadieux, nearby communities have executive orders and sometimes resolutions to support the order.

Police Chief Robert Alberti was among the 50 people who attended the meeting. He said the department already has a policy, approved in 2014, protecting illegal immigrants who are victims or witnesses to a crime.

“Any immigrant, regardless of their status, if they’re a victim or a witness to a crime and they come forward, they have rights under this policy and the federal law,” Alberti said. “Regardless of citizenship status ... if you see something, say something.”

Alberti said his department does not seek out immigration status.

“(The executive orders) are a reiteration of what the policy is, and in no way are they violating any federal laws,” Cadieux said.

In his role with the American Friends Service Committee, Napolitano was involved in passing similar resolutions in Springfield, Northampton and Amherst.

His organization will hold a public forum at 7 p.m. Dec. 15 at Eastworks community, room 160, to discuss what the resolution would mean for Easthampton.

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


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