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Sanctuary Supporters In Western Mass. Press On

Pioneer Valley Workers Center

    The Trump administration is trying to turn up the pressure on so-called sanctuary cities, but so far activists in western Massachusetts are not backing down in their efforts to shield undocumented immigrants from deportation.

   The Department of Homeland Security Monday released what is promised to be a weekly list of jurisdictions that it claims have freed from jail dangerous immigrants federal agents sought to deport. This effort at public shaming follows President Trump’s threat to cut off federal funds to sanctuary cities.

    In January, Trump signed an executive order to withhold money from communities that have policies limiting local law enforcement cooperation with federal authorities to identify and detain undocumented immigrants.

    Massachusetts Senator Elizabeth Warren said Trump is trying to “bully” sanctuary communities.

  " My view on this is no, I don't think anybody will lose federal funding," said Warren.

   Speaking with reporters in Springfield Monday, Warren said the U.S. Supreme Court has ruled that the federal government cannot use discretionary funding as a tool to influence matters of local policy.

  " If Donald Trump's administration tries that, there are going to be a lot of people ready to push back. Some cities have already taken it to court and so far we have not seen any effort to hold that money back," said Warren.

   The Amherst Board of Selectmen Monday night unanimously endorsed a proposed bylaw to make the town a sanctuary community.  It will be voted on at town meeting next month.

   Similarly, activists in Williamstown plan to bring a proposed ordinance to town meeting in May that would codify the local police department’s current policy to not enforce federal immigration law.

   Mayors in Northampton and Holyoke have both issued executive orders that direct their police departments not to enforce federal civil detainer requests for undocumented immigrants.

   One of the largest holdouts from the sanctuary city movement in western Massachusetts is Springfield, where Mayor Domenic Sarno said the police will continue to cooperate with federal authorities to track down immigrants wanted for crimes.

" We are not a sanctuary city, and I am not going to become a sanctuary city," Sarno declared in January.

   A coalition of almost two-dozen nonprofit organizations, labor unions, and lawyers in western Massachusetts are taking steps to shield undocumented immigrants from deportation, according to Rose Bookbinder of the Pioneer Valley Workers Center.

  " We are building a movement to be not only on the defensive, but the offensive," she said.

  The strategy is called “sanctuary in the streets.” It consists of a network of trained volunteers who respond rapidly to a location where an immigration enforcement action is taking place and peacefully attempt to stop it.

  The first training for volunteers in western Massachusetts is scheduled for Sunday, March 26 in Northampton.

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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