People in Bay State cities and towns looking to thumb their noses at President Trump by instituting sanctuary status for illegal immigrants are now facing pushback from municipal officials who call the measures meaningless, divisive and a threat to critical federal funds.
“I am not going to allow the right and the left to have a fistfight in downtown Melrose over something that operationally means nothing,” said Melrose Mayor Rob Dolan, a Democrat, about sanctuary city status.
The Board of Aldermen voted against designating Melrose as a sanctuary city last week. The measure would have barred Melrose police from arresting or detaining someone solely on the basis of immigration status.
“Many of the things sanctuary city petitions are pushing are already happening in every city and town,” said Dolan. “We have never pulled someone over and demanded their papers. The city of Melrose doesn’t have the funding to do the feds’ jobs.”
Liberal activists across Massachusetts as well as top Democratic figures such as Boston Mayor Martin J. Walsh railed against Trump’s push to step up deportations. Walsh dramatically even offered up Boston City Hall as a shelter as Trump threatened to cut federal funding from so-called sanctuary cities.
Other local communities then pushed for sanctuary status in solidarity, but those petitions are now hitting turbulence.
“I heard from a lot of immigrants here in Quincy, and they were dead set against it. They worked hard to come here legally,” said Quincy City Councilor Kirsten Hughes, who is also the state’s Republican Party chairwoman.
Quincy officials voted against holding sanctuary city hearings earlier this month. City officials in Easthampton — next to uber-liberal Northampton — also withdrew a similar proposal after there were clashing viewpoints.
Meanwhile, officials from the Immigration and Customs Enforcement agency released its first weekly report listing “uncooperative” Bay State communities. The list includes Amherst, Northampton, Cambridge, Boston and Somerville. It was issued after a Trump executive order asking the government to report which communities aren’t cooperating with federal efforts to find and deport illegal immigrants.
To avoid that kind of attention, some municipalities that haven’t killed their measures altogether have avoided using the term “sanctuary city,” or watered down their proposals.
Beverly Mayor Mike Cahill opposed becoming an official sanctuary city, though he did post a declaration on his Facebook page detailing the city’s support for immigrants. Cahill did not return calls for comment.
Residents and municipal officials in Salem and Rockport are holding sanctuary city votes in the next two weeks — sparking discord in both communities as elected officials scramble for a compromise.
Dennis Selectman Wayne Bergeron said even though he and the other selectmen didn’t officially vote for sanctuary status last week, their overall message was clear.
“It’s important to the board that we make sure that all people feel welcome and that they feel safe,” said Bergeron.
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