Mayor Martin J. Walsh was downright defiant Wednesday as he pledged to use all the tools of his office — including his actual office — to protect immigrants from being deported en masse.
Surrounded by one of the largest groups of black and brown people ever to occupy the Eagle Room in City Hall, Walsh came out swinging. He lambasted President Donald Trump for threatening to cut funding from “sanctuary cities” — so named because they refuse to cooperate with the federal government by detaining immigrants for deportation. He said immigrants could move into his office, if it comes to that.
Walsh wasn’t backing down on Thursday from the city ordinance that prevents Boston police from handing over immigrants unless there is a criminal warrant to arrest them. But he insisted that he wasn’t spoiling for a fight with the White House. He was protecting the people of Boston.
“I don’t think of it as a war,” the mayor said in an interview. “I’m doing what I got elected to do. I don’t agree with the policy that they announced yesterday. The president could champion immigration reform, and work with the folks who are here.”
Any doubts about the sincerity of Trump’s anti-immigrant rhetoric have been decisively laid to rest in his first week in office. Trump really wants to build that ridiculous wall along the US-Mexico border. He wants to move decisively to deport many immigrants. And he plans to use the power of the federal government to punish sanctuary cities — there are hundreds of them — that are not eager to help round up people who are in the country peacefully.
As Walsh noted, much about Trump’s threat is unclear. Mayors don’t know exactly what funding he is threatening to take away. Questions are emerging about whether Trump even has the legal authority to withhold money from sanctuary cities.
“I don’t think we quite understand the magnitude of what could be done and what power the president has,” Walsh said. “When the president talks about cutting funds from sanctuary cities, that is every major city in America, and billions of dollars taken away from urban areas. We are the hub of innovation, and drivers of the economy, and people in this city pay federal taxes. That would cause major financial problems. It contradicts what he said when he talked about giving cities and states more authority.”
This much seems clear: cities, and the mayors who run them, intend to push back hard against a major new deportation push. Somerville Mayor Joe Curtatone, whose city receives $6 million in federal funds, also announced that he would resist the new policy.
Walsh said Boston gets $500 million annually in federal money, for a wide array of programs. How much of that could be placed at risk by Trump’s policy is unknown.
Though there is no established definition of a sanctuary city, the idea behind them is to keep local police out of the business of deportation. Though the federal government maintains that immigrants can be deported for any criminal violation, it lacks the resources to carry out that sweeping policy unaided.
Boston’s refusal to hand over noncriminal immigrants for deportation is needed, supporters say, to reassure immigrants that local police are not their enemy — and to cooperate with authorities in helping to solve crimes. Critics have assailed laws such as Boston’s as far too restrictive, contending that its standard for detaining immigrants is too high.
But for Walsh, who declared at last week’s Women’s March that the resistance to Trump’s policies would begin in Massachusetts, this is clearly not just about the nuances of immigration policy. He sees Trump’s positions as an attack on the whole notion of inclusion.
And he rightly believes he’s reflecting the values of the people who elected him when he vows to resist. “We’re a free, open country,” Walsh said. “And we should be proud of that.”Adrian Walker is a Globe columnist. He can be reached at email@example.com. Follow him on Twitter @Adrian_Walker.