Curtatone on Somerville’s Sanctuary Status: “I Will Say to All Immigrants That We Stand with Them.”

border wall

Donald Trump, the former reality T.V. Star now slated to head the largest superpower in world history, has made no secret his disdain for undocumented immigrants.

He’s called for a border wall, for mass deportations, for triple the number of U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement agents, and he’s threatened to use federal funding as a tool against sanctuary cities. In a plan he released in late October for his first 100 days in office, stripping federal funding for sanctuary cities ranked third in the effort to “restore security and the constitutional rule of law.”

Sanctuary city leaders across the country, including officials Somerville and Cambridge, have pushed back. Local leaders have joined leaders in Los Angeles, Chicago, Minneapolis and Seattle in publicly blasting Trump’s threats to sanctuary cities.

“We are not going to run away from who we are,” said Somerville Mayor Joseph Curtatone by phone this week. “We are a community that espouses the values of civility, compassion, humanity and tolerance. We’re going to double down on those values. I will say to all immigrants that we stand with them.”

In a joint statement released by Cambridge Mayor Denise Simmons and City Manager Louis DePasquale, they said the city has stayed resolute in its sanctuary status since 1985 and doesn’t plan on changing.

“Today, the City of Cambridge remains just as committed to all of our residents as we have been over the past 31 years,” said Simmons.

For a year and a half, we’ve heard Trump talk, but it remains to be seen whether he has the political capital to act on any of his authoritarian promises. Still, next to a border wall funded by Mexico, stripping federal funding from sanctuary cities seems an easy goal.

Cambridge and Somerville are among about 32 so-called sanctuary cities in the country. The term is a catch-all for a variety of local ordinances that block municipal police from assisting federal agents in deportation cases, block police from pursuing people based on questions of their immigrant status, and block police from pressing charges on people found to have violated federal immigration laws.

Curtatone said that Somerville will sooner tighten its fiscal belt than sell out on its values.

“We stand with them, side by side. We’re one community, we’re one country. I know there’s a lot of fear and anxiety because there’s the unknown. We really don’t know what is going to happen,” he said.

But Trump won the election, and the democratic process needs to be respected, he said.

“I want to give the president-elect the benefit of the doubt and take him at his word when he stated in his acceptance speech that he wants to be the president of all people,” said Curtatone. “Well, if he wants to be the president of all people, then I would hope he would take his self-proclaimed business acumen and take a hard look at the facts.”

Those facts, according to Curtatone, are that there are more than 11 million undocumented immigrants living in the United States, and those people are critical parts to local economies, culture and democracy. Mass deportations, he said, could lead to another recession.

But, if Trump were to act on his immigration rhetoric and strip federal funding, it wouldn’t hit Somerville all that hard. Federal funding accounts for 3 percent of the annual budget, a sum officials are confident the city could absorb.

Federal money funds school programs like reduced cost or free lunches and special education classes, as well as city-wide programs addressing issues like opioid addiction, said Denise Taylor, city spokeswoman.

“Should it come to federal funding cuts, we will not allow our school children to go hungry, our special needs students to go without services, or any of our critical needs to go unmet,” said Taylor.

The services would be maintained, she said, through self-selected budget cuts or process efficiency.

Those, like Trump, who deride sanctuary cities, feel they harbor dangerous criminals.

By the numbers, Somerville’s population is one-third foreign born. Within city limits, residents speak 52 languages. Somerville officials passed sanctuary city language in 1987 and crime has dropped at least 50 percent since, said Taylor.

The sanctuary city statute allows undocumented immigrants to feel safe about calling the police, she said, and not deporting undocumented immigrants for minor vehicle infractions keeps together families that otherwise would be needlessly ripped apart.

“In short, crime is down and Somerville is thriving, and being a sanctuary city has aided not hindered that,” said Taylor.

In 2014, the Curtatone Administration showed a longstanding commitment to its sanctuary city status with an executive order that limited participation in the federal Secure Communities program, which asks that local police hold undocumented immigrants for two days after said individual has either posted bail or been released without it.

City government will continue to pursue action resisting federal immigration policies that put undocumented residents at risk, said Curtatone.

“We’re not going to rescind our sanctuary city declaration and status. That’s not going to happen,” he said.

In Cambridge, officials are encouraging undocumented immigrants to reach out to the city’s services, like the Cambridge Immigrant Rights Commission and programming at the Community Learning Center. Further, they stressed the police department’s commitment to helping any citizen that wishes to report a crime, regardless of immigration status. Officers do not inquire into immigration status, said DePasquale, city manager.

“Cambridge remains a welcoming community for all,” he said.

Bill Shaner is a contributing writer. Follow him on Twitter @Bill_Shaner or send him a line: billshaner91@gmail.com.

This story also appeared on our sibling site, scoutcambridge.com.

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