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Springfield City Council Vote Expected On 'Welcoming' Law For Immigrants


    The mayor of the largest city in western Massachusetts and the city’s legislative body are on a collision course tonight over the nationally volatile issue of immigration. 

     The Springfield City Council at its final scheduled meeting of the year will consider a final vote on an ordinance supporters say is intended to foster trust between the city government and immigrants regardless of their legal status.

    Mayor Domenic Sarno has promised a swift veto if the “Welcoming Community Trust” ordinance makes it to his desk.  He said it is a not so thinly-veiled attempt to make Springfield a so-called “sanctuary city”— something the mayor has vowed to never let happen.

      The ordinance would prohibit any employee of the city from inquiring about a person’s immigration status. It would also forbid city officials from taking legal action against medical, educational, or faith-based institutions for providing refuge to immigrants.

    " They (the City Council) are asking all my department heads to look the other way," said Sarno.

    Sarno claims the ordinance could trigger a migration of undocumented immigrants to Springfield that would put a burden on city services.

   "There is an unanticiaped and unbudgeted cost that will happen pertaining to schools, health, housing,'  Sarno said.

    Proponents of the ordinance refute the mayor’s claims.  They say the scenario Sarno describes has not been the experience in other cities that have offered official support for immigrants regardless of their legal status.

       City Councilor Melvin Edwards said he would not describe the ordinance as a “sanctuary law,” but as an “anti-bias law.”

   "This is just  sending the message  to everybody who is employed by the city to leave their bias at home and do their jobs," said Edwards.

    The General Government Committee, chaired by Edwards, has recommended final passage of the ordinance by the full council.  The committee, however, suggested a public safety exception.

     Springfield Police Commissioner John Barbieri told the committee last week that Springfield police do not act as immigration agents, but he said questions about immigration status are sometimes essential to investigating crimes.

      " I don't ever want our officiers to routinely check anyones immigration status," said Barbieri.

      Barbieri said he is “on board” with the concept of the ordinance.

      " As I have said publicly before,  our goal when ( police) roll up to someone on the streets who is the victim of a crime we want them to feel confident to call the police and know we are responive to their needs, get them medical care, and find the person responsible for the crime," said Barbieri. "We do not want to be the immigration police, but we need to find the right balance so we can still do our job."

     The ordinance has twice passed the City Council on voice votes.  A third vote is needed for final approval.

       City Council President Orlando Ramos has said he is sure the council can override the veto the mayor is expected to issue.

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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