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Last week, my column gave people an opportunity to vote and comment on whether Worcester should become a sanctuary city. Here are the results. NOTE: This is not a scientific survey, but rather a reader’s poll. Duplicate votes from the same IP address were eliminated.
For any person being questioned or detained by the police, should Worcester inquire about their immigration status?
READER RESULTS: 50% Yes 50% No
BACKGROUND: Generally, across the country, police departments are strongly opposed to being used as immigration agents for the federal government.
MY OPINION: This is easy. No. The police say that this would make their job much more difficult, and I believe them.
Last week’s Mariano: Breaking down the sanctuary city debate
If the Worcester police have an undocumented immigrant in custody, for any reason, should they hold them in custody if requested to do so by federal officials?
READER RESULTS: 62% Yes 38% No
BACKGROUND: According to Police Chief Steve Sargent, on rare occasions, the WPD receives what is known as a “detainer request” from federal authorities. If someone is in custody and seeking to be released, this information is provided to the state court clerk magistrate to use in their decision whether to grant bail. The WPD is bound by that decision and must release an individual granted bail.
MY OPINION: We already follow state law, and the decision of the state court clerk magistrate. In the past, some local law enforcement agencies have held offenders for up to a year and have never been reimbursed for those costs. The city does not have the resources to hold someone. However, it should coordinate with other agencies, as it does now, to ensure that a dangerous criminal remains in custody.
If an undocumented immigrant, who has previously committed a felony, is questioned or detained by police, should Worcester contact federal officials and notify them?
READER RESULTS: 74% Yes 26% No
BACKGROUND: First, it is important to know that, in Worcester as with most police departments, anyone who is arrested and booked is fingerprinted. Those fingerprints are always sent to the Automated Fingerprint Identification System, which is accessed by the State Police, the FBI, Homeland Security, and Immigration and Custom Enforcement (ICE). That means federal officials are automatically notified when someone is arrested. Immigration officials can easily monitor this information and take appropriate action when necessary.
The question, then, is should Worcester go beyond fingerprint notification to ensure that federal immigration authorities know that Worcester has an undocumented individual in custody who has a felony criminal record?
MY OPINION: Absolutely, yes. If an undocumented immigrant has a felony criminal record, in addition to fingerprint notification, the WPD should contact federal authorities to alert them. And we should keep calling them until they respond.
If an undocumented immigrant, without any criminal background, is questioned or detained by police, should Worcester contact federal officials and notify them?
READER RESULTS: 44% Yes 56% No
BACKGROUND: Again, as stated above, fingerprints are sent along to the State Police and federal officials.
MY OPINION: I would not go beyond the current practice of sending fingerprints, which in and of itself is notification.
Should Worcester become a sanctuary city?
READER RESULTS: 43% Yes 57% No
BACKGROUND: Initially, Mayor Joseph Petty and the City Council were threading the needle by not formally declaring Worcester as a sanctuary city while employing some of the policies of a sanctuary city. My best guess is that the city’s position was politically expedient in that it was designed not to offend voters. Then, when President Trump signed his executive order, the city’s position seemed like a politically smart move in that it risked no federal funds while, at the same time, not involving the local police in federal immigration matters.
However, all of that changed the minute Councilor-at-large Michael Gaffney asked city councilors to state their opinion on the record. I am guessing that Gaffney’s resolution was designed more to embarrass the mayor, who he is likely to run against this year, than it was to “protect our citizens.” Nevertheless, it forced the City Council’s hand.
READER COMMENTS: I was surprised to read the number of comments that incorrectly described a sanctuary city. A number of readers questioned why local officials would not follow federal law.
“A law is a law,” many wrote. However, there is no federal law that requires local police to ask about someone’s immigration status. Further, there is no federal law that requires a local police department to detain anyone who is an undocumented immigrant.
A sanctuary city does not ignore federal law. And local law enforcement does not interfere with federal law in any way. In those cities, local law enforcement simply leaves enforcement of federal law to federal authorities. That is what is happening in Worcester today – and has been for years.
There were those who tried to tie the sanctuary city issue to Muslims. “Kelly M” listed a long list of assaults from around the world that have been attributed to Muslims. She neglected to mention that the vast majority of her examples were not undocumented immigrants and thus would not be affected by a sanctuary city policy.
Finally, “Mark” asked: “What if ISIS or a drug cartel wanted to hide in a sanctuary city?” Here again, he is misinformed. Anyone accused or suspected of a crime would be investigated by federal and local police.
MY OPINION: There are several issues to consider here. First is the impact of any decision on the ability of the Worcester police to do its job. Police officials feel strongly that adding the issue of immigration status to an already difficult and dangerous job would be a mistake.
Second is the potential loss of federal funds. While we do not yet know precisely which funds or grants would be in jeopardy, we do know that Worcester already struggles to receive these funds and needs them badly. However, in my opinion, the potential for losing existing funding, simply by declaring Worcester a sanctuary city, is very small.
Third, the term sanctuary city has no legal meaning. Even if you are not a sanctuary city you can employ the very same police practices – which Worcester does now. In other words, Worcester is already a de facto sanctuary city. We just don’t say it out loud.
Fourth and most important is what a sanctuary city means in the age of Trump. Prior to Donald Trump becoming president, I would have supported the city’s position, in which it did not claim sanctuary status but allowed the police to do their job unencumbered by immigration matters.
However, Trump has turned our world upside down – and he has done so with mean-spirited attacks on many vulnerable communities.
More than Gaffney’s council resolution, Trump has forced people to choose sides rather than meet in the middle – where the best political policy generally exists. In that context, and although it would not change a single existing police practice here in Worcester, I would vote to make Worcester a sanctuary city.
Sometimes, you just have to stand up to a bully.
Raymond V. Mariano is a Worcester Sun columnist. He comments on his hometown every Sunday in Worcester Sun.