Group Seeking ‘Sanctuary Town’ Status For Belmont

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Photo: Anne Mahon speaking before the Belmont Democratic Town Committee

A group of politically progressive Belmont residents is pushing forward with a citizen’s petition designating Belmont a “sanctuary” community to be voted on at the annual Town Meeting in May.

“We’re not doing this to wave a flag and make ourselves feel warm inside. There are people that are really afraid,” said Anne Mahon, chair of the Belmont Democratic Town Committee who presented the plan before two dozen members at its monthly meeting on Thursday, Feb. 2 at Town Hall.

Mahon said the committee’s move is in response to a ban of travelers from seven majority Muslim nations and halting of the resettlement of Syrian refugees by President Trump. 

“Belmont has residents with green cards and Visas because top scientists, doctors, and engineers are always being recruited from around the world to work at our universities and firms. They come here because we have one of the finest school systems as well as proximity to their job locations. We want our families to all feel safe here,” she said.

Mahon said supporters of the proposal expect an increase in deportations of not only undocumented immigrants but people in the country with a “green” card and student and work visas.

“We have local families that are afraid to visit a sick family member abroad for fear they will be denied access to their return,” she said.

“Imagine how horrible that would be … to have a job and a residence here, a dying parent abroad that they wish to comfort, but worry America won’t let you back in.”

A sanctuary community enacts laws placing limits on how much local police or town officials can cooperate with requests from federal authorities to hold immigrants in custody.

“There are people in Belmont we know who can’t leave the country because they don’t know if they can come back,” she said.

While most in attendance were approving of the measure, the Democrats want to see the petition sponsored by the town’s Human Rights Commission – as it was done in Arlington – to ensure a non-partisan debate at Town Meeting. 

“This is a bipartisan issue. This is just neighbors looking out for neighbors,” she said.

Belmont would join neighboring communities Newton and Arlington which have started their efforts to secure sanctuary status. Boston, Cambridge, Somerville and Amherst have established policies limiting cooperation with federal immigration authority.

Mahon said Belmont would use language similar to Arlington’s proposal [see below] which would prevent town police from enforcing federal immigration laws or for them to ask the immigration status of people they meet.

So far, reaction to Arlington and Newton has been mixed. While the language is still being crafted, Arlington’s Board of Selectmen has placed the article into its annual Town Meeting set for April but have yet to vote on a recommendation. In Newton, Mayor Setti Warren is backing one of two ordinances, but he and supporters have seen considerable pushback from those who feel the measure would threaten to shortchange the town of federal funding.

Trump has threatened to take away federal grants from sanctuary communities if they do not help deport immigrants.

Mahon said an analysis by the town’s treasurer found the financial hit to Belmont if the administration bans federal funds would be minimal with the town receiving just about $50,000, mostly in affordable housing grants.

Arlington’s Sanctuary Town resolution

To see if the Town will resolve to become a Sanctuary Town, joining hundreds of municipalities nationwide, providing a safe haven and sanctuary for undocumented residents of our Town, and protecting all residents from hate and prejudice, provided, however that this resolution shall not prevent law enforcement from investigating, arresting or charging someone for a crime or other legal infraction, or take any other action related thereto.

Inserted at the request of the Human Rights Commission

ARTICLE RESOLUTION/SANCTUARY/TRUST ACT COMMUNITY

To see if the Town will resolve to become a Sanctuary Town, joining hundreds of municipalities nationwide, providing a safe haven and sanctuary for undocumented residents of our Town, and protecting all residents from hate and prejudice, provided, however that this resolution shall not prevent law enforcement from investigating, arresting or charging someone for a crime or other legal infraction, or take any other action related thereto.

AND/OR

To see if the Town will vote to adopt a resolution that Arlington serve as a “Trust Act” Community (also known as a “sanctuary community”) to ensure that all immigrants can fully and safely participate in the civic and economic life of the Town by resolving to refrain from among other things: using Town resources for the purpose of gathering information regarding the citizenship, immigration status, ethnicity, national origin, religious affiliation for discriminatory purposes; engaging in or assisting in Immigration and Customs Enforcement in reporting, arresting, detaining deporting, or taking any other law enforcement action unsupported by separate and distinct warrants or probable cause from criminal conduct unrelated to immigration status; or take any action related thereto.

Comment: A number of simultaneous efforts by Town residents and bodies, including the Arlington Human Rights Commission have expressed great desire to establishing Arlington as a “Sanctuary Town” or “Trust Act” community. I am aware that this matter is separately on your agenda as the Arlington Human Rights Commission plans to present their version of a warrant article (the former above) as part of a wider discussion for your endorsement. If the Board is so inclined, there may be some distinctions between the ultimate Town Meeting motion pursued by like- minded efforts, but overall it is my recommendation that if either or both are pursued, they are presented as resolutions.

I also look forward to the opportunity to discuss some of the distinctions between Trust Act ordinances adopted by neighbors such as Boston and the town’s legislative options.

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Comments

  1. Jonathan says

    “To see if the Town will resolve to become a Sanctuary Town, joining hundreds of municipalities nationwide, providing a safe haven and sanctuary for undocumented residents of our Town, and protecting all residents from hate and prejudice, provided, however that this resolution shall not prevent law enforcement from investigating, arresting or charging someone for a crime or other legal infraction, or take any other action related thereto.”

    Can somebody please explain what this means? Being an undocumented immigrant is, currently, a crime. While I might support changing Federal law to decriminalize being an undocumented immigrant (one can both have borders and still not deport people who make it across) what I don’t understand is how to interpret a statement that says we won’t prevent law enforcement from charging someone with a crime in the same paragraph you’re saying you’ll be a sanctuary for people committing a crime. Is this just something to pat ourselves on the back with or would this actually have teeth, and prevent our police from cooperating with Federal authorities? And can we even do that, legally?

    I suspect this is really just about patting ourselves on the back and doing very little. If we’re going to have Belmont potentially going on record as refusing to honor Federal law (a pretty serious thing) let’s at least make sure we’re getting something for our neighbors for doing so. I hope people take this seriously, and actually READ what we’re going to be signing and perform due diligence to make sure this will actually have a legal impact and not just be a liability without any actual help to immigrants.

  2. Mimi says

    Do Belmont Liberals really understand what being a “sanctuary city” actually means? A Sanctuary City provides a safe haven for ARRESTED ILLEGAL ALIENS in defiance of federal laws. Contrary to your statement that this “shall not prevent law enforcement from investigating….a crime”, Sanctuary Cities embrace that criminal element – without threat of deportation.

    And this article belongs under OPINION – not NEWS.

    • John Q Public says

      Mimi,

      I applaud your words. Your response was based on logic and critical thinking. Sadly, neither logic or critical thinking works very well on liberals. The proponents of this proposal should remove their door locks and hang out a placard welcoming anyone and everyone into their own home.

      JQP

  3. Mark Rodgers says

    Great to see those in Belmont wanting to help those who need it the mosr, thank you for taking a stand in the face of ignorance and hostility.. Thank you in particular Ms. Mahon!

  4. Thom Valicenti says

    This makes me proud to call Belmont home! If we reject the people who want to come here to work hard to make a better life for themselves, then America won’t be America anymore!

  5. Judith Arneson says

    I very much hope that we as a community can see our way clear to becoming a sanctuary town. It isn’t something that we should enter in lightly or as a “knee-jerk liberal” gesture. We should undertake it as a serious action that is in the interests of keeping our town vibrant, culturally relevant, and prosperous, as well as reflecting core values of rationality, inclusiveness, and acceptance. Surely that is the message we want to send to the world, as well as to our own children watching the actions that we take. And beyond just the sending of messages, surely that is who we want to *be.*

    • Donna Ruvolo says

      Judith, I think your comment says it all. This is a non-partisan issue, and I hope it will be considered as such. Belmont is a town with many individuals and families this could impact, and I am confident that standing with our friends and neighbors deserves further and serious consideration. I am very pleased that the Democratic Town Committee and the Human Rights Commission are already working with the Town Treasurer and the Belmont Police Department to collect solid information so our Town Meeting Members can make an informed vote on the importance of this measure. Thanks to everyone involved with this worthwhile effort.

  6. Livia Racz says

    I support this idea. The immigration ban is painted with too broad a brush, and hurting the many top scientists, entrepreneurs, and artists who make our community vibrant. People who followed the rules should not suddenly have their rights revoked.

  7. Maria Tourreilles says

    Would love to know when next meeting is to discuss this issue. Was not even aware of this meeting or would have attended.

  8. David Sangurima says

    If this is adopted it would be a very positive step. I would consider it the right thing to do for neighbors. This would be yet another incentive for families to relocate to Belmont. May you find the pros outweigh the cons.

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