Pelham may be 1st to back state ‘sanctuary’ bill, Northampton eyes support too

Staff Writer
Published: 4/5/2017 11:01:55 PM

PELHAM — As other cities and towns across the state push to become official sanctuaries, Pelham could be the first town to support making all of Massachusetts a safe and welcoming place for all immigrants.

When Town Meeting convenes May 6, voters will have the opportunity to adopt the language of the Safe Communities Act, a bill being considered by the state Legislature that would ensure local police resources are not going toward federal immigration enforcement, that Immigrations and Customs Enforcement detainer requests only are complied with if there is a court order, that no Muslim registry is established and that undocumented immigrants have some due process under the law.

The Northampton City Council, meanwhile, which already has adopted policies in-line with the sanctuary city movement, will soon consider a resolution in support of the state’s Safe Communities Act.

In Pelham, Michael Hussin, a member of the Pelham Neighbor to Neighbor group, said the Town Meeting article, which the Select Board agreed to put on the warrant, is umbrella legislation that would cover all communities in the commonwealth.

Should any federal lawsuit be filed against any community in the state for becoming a sanctuary for immigrants, the state would provide the defense, if the act is adopted.

“For small towns our size, that would be the most effective,” Hussin said.

“In helping to protect all its citizens, this act would in effect protect individual cities from being singled out for retribution and bring the weight of our entire delegation into defense of the state,” Hussin added.

The state act was filed by Sen. Jamie Eldridge, D-Acton, and Rep. Juana Matias, D-Lawrence.

Hussin said the offices of the co-sponsors are unaware of any other cities and towns whose Town Meetings will weigh in on the act.

“We’re the only municipality bringing it to Town Meeting, as far as we know,” Hussin said.

State Rep. Solomon Goldstein-Rose, D-Amherst, who represents Pelham, said in an email that he appreciates this action.

“Towns endorsing state policy that might be relevant for municipalities can only help the chance of the bill passing,” he said.

In fact, Hussin said that is one of purposes, to ensure that the Legislature has a veto-proof majority if Gov. Charlie Baker does try to kill the legislation.

Godlstein-Rose said the Safe Communities Act would keep state money and police personnel from being used to detain undocumented immigrants, which is not their role.

“This wouldn’t prevent ICE from deporting undocumented immigrants, but would make our towns a bit safer and more welcoming,” Goldstein-Rose said, adding that he looks forward to the conversations at Pelham’s Town Meeting.

Neighbor to Neighbor meets regularly to identify issues the town can support, and in the past has proposed measures related to environmental sustainability, including opposing fracking in town or using products made from fracking, and being against the Tennessee Gas Pipeline that was proposed to pass through western Massachusetts.

Prior to Town Meeting, a forum will be held April 27 at 7 p.m. in the community room at Pelham Library in which the Safe Communities Act will be discussed and the public will have an opportunity to ask questions.

Jeff Napolitano, director and program coordinator for the American Friends Service Committee of Western Massachusetts, and the Rev. Margaret Sawyer of Interfaith Sanctuary and Solidarity Network, will speak.

Northampton to act

The draft resolution the Northampton City Council plans to consider reaffirms the city’s commitment to not honor noncriminal detainer requests issued by ICE and backs efforts to expand such policies statewide.

Leaders in sanctuary cities like Northampton argue that immigration laws should be enforced by federal officers and that deputizing local law enforcement to enforce immigration creates ethical, financial and legal conflicts.

Scott Merzbach can be reached at

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