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Mayors, Activists Respond To Trump's Sanctuary City Crackdown

Springfield Mayor Domenic Sarno on stage

As protests erupted over the weekend against President Trump’s immigration and refugee bans, communities in Massachusetts are responding to the president’s proposed crackdown on sanctuary cities. Trump signed an executive order threatening to strip federal funds from communities that harbor undocumented immigrants.

    Boston Mayor Marty Walsh, the son Irish immigrants, drew national attention when he denounced Trump for threatening sanctuary cities and declared that as a last resort he would use his office in City Hall to harbor immigrants from federal authorities.

    The mayor of Springfield, Domenic Sarno, whose parents came from Italy, also got national attention for disputing multiple news reports that included Springfield among the state’s sanctuary cities.

    "We are not a sanctuary city," declared Sarno. " And we are not going to become a sanctuary city."

         Although there is no universal agreement on the definition of “sanctuary city,” it has been widely interpreted to refer to policies and practices involving local law enforcement cooperation with federal authorities to detain for possible deportation undocumented immigrants.

     The mayors of Northampton and Holyoke have both issued executive orders that direct their police departments not to enforce federal civil detainer requests.  Both Northampton and Holyoke have been frequently identified in news reports as “sanctuary cities.”

    Sarno said Springfield police would continue to work with federal agents if they are tracking immigrants who are suspected of violent crimes.

   "We are not going to harbor them or protect them, but rest assured that if one of these individuals is victimized than they would be treated like any other resident and try to help them," Sarno said.

   While disputing Springfield’s classification as a “sanctuary city,” Sarno described it as a “caring city.”     

   " I am not going to jeopardize the millions and millions of dollars that come to the city of Springfield whether it is through Homeland Security for public safety or CDBG funds that are a lifeline for urban mayors," he said.

    In 2013, Sarno called for a moratorium on the resettlement of refugees in Springfield because he said it was putting a burden on city services including the school system.  He also accused refugee resettlement agencies of putting the new arrivals in substandard housing.

   " My beef or my aggravation has never been with the refugees who come from some traumatic situations, but with some of the resettlement agencies that often bring these people here unannounced," said Sarno.

    Rose Bookbinder of the Pioneer Valley Workers Center said Sarno’s comments have heightened anxiety within the immigrant community.

    " Clearly Domenic Sarno is not standing with his community because his community is a community of immigrants," she said.

   A coalition of almost two-dozen nonprofit organizations, labor unions, elected officials and lawyers in western Massachusetts are taking steps to protect undocumented immigrants from deportation.

  " We are creating a mechanism as a community that we call 'sanctuary in the streets' that we are committing ourselves to protecting our immigrant communities," explained Bookbinder.

   Bookbinder said Trump’s threat to shut off federal funds to sanctuary cities rings hollow.

   " We believe Trump is using this to divide our communities and to put fear into our communities and we are not going to stand for that," she said.

   Massachusetts Congressman Richard Neal, the ranking Democratic on the House Ways and Means Committee, said it is not clear if Trump could act unilaterally to withhold funds from communities.

     " That is subject to debate," said Neal.  " I don't think it is a good idea to penalize those cities that are in a meaningful manner every single day trying to accommodate people whose aspiration is to want to become Americans."

    Gov. Charlie Baker said he believes Massachusetts should not be “sanctuary state.”  He said municipalities should make their own policies based on what is best for public safety.





Paul Tuthill is WAMC’s Pioneer Valley Bureau Chief. He’s been covering news, everything from politics and government corruption to natural disasters and the arts, in western Massachusetts since 2007. Before joining WAMC, Paul was a reporter and anchor at WRKO in Boston. He was news director for more than a decade at WTAG in Worcester. Paul has won more than two dozen Associated Press Broadcast Awards. He won an Edward R. Murrow award for reporting on veterans’ healthcare for WAMC in 2011. Born and raised in western New York, Paul did his first radio reporting while he was a student at the University of Rochester.
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