Mayor Kimberley L. Driscoll said the city is pressing ahead with an ordinance that would make Salem a sanctuary city despite President Donald Trump’s move to strip federal funds from municipalities with that status.
Trump last Wednesday issued an executive order authorizing federal officials to bar sanctuary cities from receiving federal funds, except when needed for law enforcement.
Chelsea, Lawrence, and Somerville are among the current sanctuary cities in Massachusetts, which opt not to actively assist federal authorities in deporting illegal immigrants.
“We are a pro-immigrant community and are standing up to make sure our immigrant friends and neighbors feel safe and know that under our city’s policies they can do things like call the police, attend public school, or go to the public library without fear of being arrested or deported,” Driscoll said. “However, we are not adopting a policy that would protect an undocumented immigrant from prosecution for committing a crime or limit communication with federal law enforcement officials.”
According to the most recent census figures, 14.6 percent of Salem residents are foreign born.
With an annual budget of $158 million, the city receives $10 million to $11 million in federal funding, according to the mayor.
Driscoll said she does not believe the president’s order would jeopardize Salem’s federal funding if it becomes a sanctuary city.
“We are in compliance with the law today, and we would expect to be in compliance going forward with the adoption of the proposed sanctuary city ordinance,” she said.
John L. Hayes, chairman of the Republican City Committee, said members of his group fear that the ordinance — expected to come before the City Council Feb. 9 — would put the city at risk of losing $11 million, which he noted “is not chump change.” Regarding the contention by Driscoll and other city officials that the money is not at risk, “They can be as confident as they want and still be wrong,” Hayes said.
Driscoll said the city ordinance would essentially codify and reaffirm Salem’s existing policies regarding undocumented residents, which she said fully adhere to the law Trump’s order seeks to enforce.
“We are clear we would never not cooperate with federal officials,” she said. “We have an active harbor and large scale events here. Our law enforcement community communicates and coordinates with federal law enforcement officials.
“But we don’t in our current practices ask someone their immigration status unless they are under arrest,” she said. “So routine calls for service or taking a witness statement from someone who may be a victim of a crime, those sorts of activities, would not trigger our Police Department asking about someone’s immigration status.
“The 10th Amendment to the Constitution says local communities can’t be compelled to enforce federal law,” Driscoll said, expressing confidence that the city could not be penalized for following that policy.
Salem Police Chief Mary E. Butler said her department would continue to work with immigration authorities when dealing with undocumented immigrants who are criminal offenders, but not with those who are law abiding.
Hayes questioned the need for adopting an ordinance that just continues existing policy, but Butler said it would provide “a little sense of safety and security that if someone is trying to do the right thing and being an upstanding citizen of the community, we are not looking for them.”
Offering that assurance enhances public safety, Butler said. “We rely on . . . people from the community to to provide information to assist. If they know the outcome would not result in something negative for them, I think they would be more likely to say something.”John Laidler can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.