Easthampton councilors withdraw idea of sanctuary city designation

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    Salem Derby, center, who is the chair of the Ordinance Subcommittee for Easthampton, speaks beside other members, who are James "JP" Kwiecinski and Tamara Smith, during a meeting Wednesday at the Municipal Building.

  • Tamara Smith, who is a member of the Ordinance Subcommittee in Easthampton, speaks during a meeting Wednesday at the Municipal Building.

Published: 2/23/2017 12:23:57 AM

EASTHAMPTON — After more than two months of discussion, city councilors have taken the idea of making Easthampton a safe zone for undocumented immigrants off the table.

On Wednesday, City Councilors Salem Derby, James “JP” Kwiecinski and Tamara Smith, members of the Ordinance Subcommittee, voted to withdraw the proposal to designate Easthampton a sanctuary city. The subcommittee will next ask the full City Council to confirm the vote.

A sanctuary city designation 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.

Smith, who co-sponsored the proposal brought forth by Councilor Jennifer Hayes, entertained the motion to withdraw the item.

“I do not feel that this is a role the City Council should be taking,” Smith said. “In any other city that we’ve seen, the City Council is supportive of the sanctuary city, not demanding of a sanctuary city.”

City Council President Joseph McCoy spoke during public comment on Wednesday to raise questions about the legality of a sanctuary city ordinance, referring to an opinion on the matter by City Solicitor John H. Fitz-Gibbon.

With a so-called strong mayor and strong police chief, McCoy said, the Easthampton City Council does not have the authority to issue an ordinance instructing the police department on how to behave.

“We do not have the power, according to the city solicitor,” he said.

However, McCoy said an executive order from the mayor can legally put the city policy in place.

“It would take just one pen stroke from the mayor,” he said.

Mayor’s opposition

Mayor Karen Cadieux said she had not expressed her opinion on the measure so as to ensure the topic went through a public process with the community and city officials.

Cadieux was not present for the duration of the meeting due to another commitment, but stated Wednesday night that an executive order is not necessary for the city.

“For me to do an executive order — as we’ve talked about before, (it) reiterates what we do now, but orders the police to do what they are already doing — is insulting to them,” Cadieux said.

The mayor said Easthampton is a unique community, not only by size but by policing — from blocking off streets for cookouts to patrolling downtown.

“Our community policing is like none other,” Cadieux said.

Federal vs. local

In his decades-long career at the police department, Police Chief Robert Alberti said, he’s never had the Department of Homeland Security come in on a civil detainer and ask the local police to detain someone.

“If they did that today, I tell them I don’t have the resources. I have criminal investigations and I’m trying to keep the people of Easthampton safe and secure,” Alberti said. “Every human being in Easthampton is safe and secure — I don’t care what walk of life you’re from.”

Civil immigration is a federal matter, Alberti said. Local police officers can be assigned to a federal task force, but Alberti said if he were to do that, it would be to the Drug Enforcement Agency.

“I have to prioritize my resources, or lack of resources for that matter, to what’s impacting this community,” Alberti said. “There’s a drug epidemic.”

The Easthampton Police Department do not seek out immigration status, according Alberti. Anyone who commits a crime will go through the legal system.

Since 2014, the Easthampton Police Department has had an immigration policy in place for undocumented immigrants who are victims or witnesses of crimes. Those who come forward to law enforcement are eligible for a U visa, which confers up to four years of nonimmigrant status.

Coming together

As the designation as been a controversial subject in Easthampton, petitions and statements have circulated throughout the city and into the mailboxes of city officials. Meetings on the measure have been packed and full of colorful public comment.

“All of you have very strong opinions on both sides,” Smith told a crowd of about 80 people on Wednesday. “I’d really love to see our city start to heal from this rift.”

Tristan Chambers helped to initiate two petitions urging city officials to instruct local police to ignore Immigration and Customs Enforcement detainer requests. The most recent online petition bears about 200 signatures from people in the area.

Over the past month, Chambers said he discovered many people in the community were interested in the idea, forming a group of about 50 people.

With the result of Wednesday night’s meeting, Chambers said he plans to start a conversation about what next steps the community can take on the matter.

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


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