Westhampton voters reject sanctuary designation

  • Westhampton Town Hall

Published: 5/14/2017 3:43:02 PM

WESTHAMPTON — Town Meeting voters shot down two articles supporting a sanctuary community designation at Westhampton Town Hall on Saturday.

A lengthy discussion preceded the votes, which were split between the 78 people voting on behalf of the town. One of the articles took a stand on state-level legislation regarding sanctuary cities and the other sought to limit the extent to which local officials engage in immigration enforcement.

One article was a resolution directing local police to refrain from honoring federal immigration orders and asking schools to continue enrolling children regardless of immigration status. The measure failed by a 36-31 vote.

The article states “it is our belief that policies which deter certain individuals from contacting government officials, law enforcement, or medical assistance, or accessing educational opportunities, out of fear of deportation, create a community which is less welcoming and less safe for all residents.”

The other article proposed town officials urge state representatives to support Safe Communities Act. It failed by a 41-37 vote.

According to the warrant, the act would prohibit state support for any Muslim registry, ensure basic due process rights for immigrants detained in state and local facilities and ensure that state and local police do not participate in federal immigration activities. The act would designate Massachusetts as a “sanctuary state.”

Resident Alicia Brody said she sees the immigration has a federal matter that should be dealt with by the United States Immigration Customs and Enforcement.

“Immigration is a federal issue, it is a national issue,” she said. “And I would rather that my local tax dollars be used for local issues.

But a Select Board member disagreed.

“This piece of paper encourages law enforcement not to work with other law enforcement and that is just wrong,” Select Board member James Huston said.

Police Chief David White said he does not have a stance on whether the town should become a sanctuary city, but said he would respect the wishes of the town. Throughout the years White has been with the department, he has never dealt with immigration enforcement.

Others say the measure could draw criminals to the town and make Westhampton unsafe.

“These people are criminals,” one resident said. “They’re coming here illegally.”

Some residents said they needed more time to research. Because the two articles on immigration were added by petition, many said they were not aware of them until just a few days before the Town Meeting.

Select Board chairman Philip Dowling, a proponent of the measures, signed both petitions that landed them on Town Meeting floor. Dowling said there are millions of undocumented immigrants in the United States and each one has a story. 

“There’s 11 million stories,” he said, noting that not every immigrant is a criminal and they come to America in a variety of different ways. Some are here for school or work, but their papers have expired, Dowling said.

Other articles

Voters tackled 26 articles during Saturday’s Town Meeting, the majority of which were budgetary. 

Voters rejected an article asking state representatives to support creation of a revenue-neutral carbon-free and dividend program. According to the article, the program would create a system of emissions fees for the sale or distribution of natural gas, petroleum and coal. Revenue from those fees would be placed in a rebate fund and all proceeds would return to residents and employers in the form of rebates.

Voters also approved spending $55,000 from free cash to fund a feasibility study on the town’s safety complex — a priority for the fire and police departments. According to the fiscal 2018 budget proposal the public safety complex has “outlived its useful life and needs to be replaced immediately.” 

Discussion stirred among residents, many questioning why a feasibility study is necessary before the construction process.

Steve Holt, from the town’s feasibility committee, said the study is to understand whether it is more cost efficient to renovate the existing structure or to demolish it and construct a new one.

The study will assess the existing building conditions, analyze the need for space and will include a site evaluation. Holt said the town remains in negotiations with a firm and could not reveal the name.

Fire Chief Chris Norris said in a previous interview that there are problems with the 65-year-old building, such as the space is too small to house new fire engines, the office space on the top floor is not handicap accessible and the building lacks an adequate ventilation system, exposing firefighters to diesel exhaust fumes.

For White, he said when he is working in the police department office and the fire engines below have been turned on, he has to leave the building due to the exhaust fumes.

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

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