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The Tufts Daily
Where you read it first | Saturday, April 20, 2024

Somerville, Medford reaffirm commitment to undocumented immigrants

Somerville Mayor Joe Curtatone speaks to the audience during a Somerville Democratic City Committee meeting at the Somerville High School Auditorium on Nov. 30, 2016.

Despite President-elect Donald Trump’s recent threats to block funding from sanctuary cities, Somerville Mayor Joseph Curtatone reiterated the city’s commitment to remaining a sanctuary city in an open letter released on Nov. 21.

“Somerville will stand with you regardless of your race, creed, color, sex, nationality, legal status, religion, gender identity or sexual orientation,” the letter, which Curtatone authored along with Executive Director of The Welcome Project Ben Echevarria, reads. “We're going to keep bringing people together, making sure we remain a sanctuary for all. We are one community. We've got values that work.”

According to Associate Professor of Sociology Helen Marrow, sanctuary cities -- a term that encompasses a variety of policy commitments -- do not make extra efforts to police undocumented immigrants at the local level. They are still bound by state and federal law with regard to requesting and using immigration status information, however, including in determining benefit eligibility.

According to the letter, Somerville has been a sanctuary city since 1987, and its violent crime rates and unemployment rates are lower than state and national averages.

“So for anyone who claims that cracking down on sanctuary cities has something to do with high crime or a stagnant economy, Somerville stands as a flashing, neon billboard for how wrong that thinking is,” the letter reads.

This was reiterated at an open meeting with Curtatone held by the Somerville Democratic City Committee on Nov. 30 to discuss Somerville’s status as a sanctuary city in light of the presidential election.

“We need you to keep talking about our values. We need you … to have conversations with friends and relatives,” Curtatone told the audience. “I think you need to remind people, these are our neighbors, these are our friends … They love this country as much as anyone else … probably more, and we can’t let the lie become the truth."

Statistics show that crime rates among undocumented immigrants are lower than crime rates among immigrants in general, which in turn are lower than the average among U.S.-born citizens, according to Marrow. Likewise, a 2015 report from the Immigration Policy Center, a pro-immigration reform think tank, found that immigrants are less likely to be incarcerated than U.S.-born citizens and that the same trend would likely hold for undocumented immigrants.

According to Curtatone and Echevarria's letter, Somerville currently receives approximately $6 million in recurring federal funds per year, about three percent of the city's annual budget. These funds go towards programs including special education, school lunch, substance abuse prevention and homeland security.

In an interview with the Daily after the Nov. 30 meeting, Curtatone emphasized that Somerville would not abandon its values because of the threat of loss of federal funding.

“If it happens, we have to tighten our belts … we might have to make some tougher decisions about what we don’t fund, but we're not going to allow the very fabric of this community to disintegrate at the threat of hanging money over our heads just to have us run away from who we are,” Curtatone said. “We’re not going to do it. We’re going to make a stand.”

Nevertheless, Curtatone said that he hoped Trump and his advisors would find it prudent not to cut federal funding from sanctuary cities.

“The president-elect on election night said he wants to be the president of all people,” Curtatone said. “[Cutting federal grants affects] the very programs that serve the most vulnerable populations that he exclaimed throughout the campaign have been neglected by the Democratic Party and that he wanted to be the champion for.”

Marrow said it is plausible that the Trump administration would try to make federal funding dependent on cooperation with federal deportation efforts, but it is unlikely that such efforts would be legally successful, as such laws would have to be made well in advance and explicitly state that federal grants are tied to certain state and local actions. There is also legal precedent that forbids the federal government from withholding funds in ways that “coerce” state governments into enforcing federal law, according to Marrow.

Marrow emphasized that there is a difference between local non-cooperation and breaking state and federal law. For instance, U.S. Immigrations and Customs Enforcement (ICE) has increasingly encouraged local police to detain people who have been arrested for something other than their immigration status -- since entering the country illegally is a civil violation and not a crime -- so that their immigration status can be investigated, Marrow stated.

Marrow said that sanctuary city policies discourage cooperation with these “ICE holds,” because performing immigration regulation is often not in local police’s economic or professional interests.

[Police agencies have found that they] lose the trust and they create tensions in their local communities that … work against the goals of policing,” Marrow explained, referring to their experiences experimenting with ICE holds in the past

She added that many local police agencies have previously resisted the extra work of immigration regulation because the federal government did not sufficiently fund local detainment costs.

Similarly, in an email statement from University President Anthony Monaco to the Tufts community on Nov. 30, Monaco reaffirmed that the university is committed to supporting undocumented students.

“High-achieving students who have earned a place at Tufts deserve the opportunity to obtain their degree and use that education to better our society,” the statement read. “The university will not provide information about our students or assist in the enforcement of immigration laws except as mandated by a subpoena, warrant, or court order … Our policy is consistent with what Somerville, one of our host communities, has had in place for some time.”

According to Emma Kahn, a member of Tufts United for Immigrant Justice (UIJ), Monaco has committed to housing undocumented Tufts students on the Somerville side of campus if Somerville remains a sanctuary city.

“We are open to any number of strategies for accommodating our [Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals] and undocumented students,” Executive Director of Public Relations Patrick Collins told the Daily in an email.

Kahn, a junior, added that although UIJ’s initial demands asked that ICE and other immigration enforcement officials be banned from all Tufts buildings, Monaco did not specifically address this in his statement.

Meanwhile, Medford Mayor Stephanie Burke presented a resolution supporting the diversity of Medford’s population at the Medford City Council meeting on Nov. 29. The resolution was passed unanimously, according to the Medford Transcript.

“The City of Medford is a community that welcomes and values the varied racial and ethnic makeup of our residents, and … stands in support of all immigrant groups and newcomers as they pursue the 'American Dream,'” the resolution read. “The City of Medford will work to model our city as a safe and welcoming place that equally encourages all to seek personal advancement and to reside in peaceful contentment in Medford.”

Medford’s Diversity Director Diane McLeod said that the statement was a response to the “hateful rhetoric that eventually led to the results of the presidential election.”

“The goals of putting out the statement were to publicly alleviate fear and ensure our community that everyone will be treated with dignity and respect,” McLeod wrote in an email to the Daily. “Although this has always been our mission, it seemed important at this time to say it publicly and have our community representatives and elected officials sign on to that statement.”

Dale Bryan, who, aside from his role as assistant director of Peace and Justice Studies, is co-director of the Medford Conversations project, highlighted the racial, ethnic and generational diversity of the city’s population.

The topic of Medford Conversations’ Winter Conversation Series, titled "Who Belongs? Dialogues about Race and Ethnicity in Medford and Beyond,” was selected during the presidential primaries earlier this year and reflects the concerns of Medford residents who participated in the project’s events, according to Bryan.

Neither McLeod nor Bryan has heard of any calls to make Medford a sanctuary city, although Bryan noted that the Medford Community Coalition had sent an email to Burkein mid-November calling for her to issue a statement of inclusivity.

McLeod said that a possible reason she has not received sanctuary city requests is that Medford police have not participated in ICE efforts such as Secure Communities, which encouraged local jurisdictions to help federal authorities identify undocumented immigrants.

“They do not report illegal immigrants who are stopped for minor infractions,” McLeod said. “Our police chief is, and has been, a member of the Medford Human Rights Commission (HRC) for many, many years.”

According to McLeod, the HRC leads the city in community building, race relations and inclusivity efforts.

"The HRC is continuously community building and discussing issues such as race, ethnicity and equality as these issues are and will always be part of our community," she wrote. "We constantly strive to make Medford a welcoming community."

Max Lalanne and Rebecca Redelmeier contributed reporting on this article.