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Ipswich votes to become a sanctuary town

Town Meeting votes to pass a bylaw making Ipswich a sanctuary town. Lindsay Randall

Ipswich has joined the growing list of Massachusetts “sanctuary” cities and towns. The definition and level of sanctuary varies in each community, but the compassionate spirit is clear.

Vard Johnson, a retired immigration attorney, is a strong supporter of the sanctuary act in his town. Johnson said the Ipswich Trust Act was necessary because “this is a time of some fear,” referring to President Trump’s emphasis on rounding up and deporting undocumented immigrants.

“Ipswich has always been a caring community,” said William Craft, chairman of the Board of Selectmen. “This is just a continuation of that caring spirit.”


Isaac Ross brought the citizens’ petition to the community of about 13,000 residents and was surprised at the overwhelming support it received at Town Meeting, where it passed by a two-thirds majority of the 369 people who checked in on May 10 for the second evening of the meeting.

“It was a very positive response early on,” said Ross, who is active with the Essex County Community Organization, a faith-based coalition that promotes justice issues north of Boston. “More than 100 volunteers helped pass the act that makes it clear to local immigrants that the Ipswich police are not part of federal immigration enforcement and that they can be trusted.”

The Finance Committee opposed the article. Finance Committee member Janice Skelton spoke against it at Town Meeting because the bylaw “managed” the police department.

Police Chief Paul Nikas had the same concern.

“I don’t think a bylaw should dictate policy and procedure for my department,” he said. “That was my only apprehension. The bylaw does not change our policies and procedures. We have no authority to enforce immigration laws.”

There are risks to becoming a sanctuary city. The Trump administration has threatened to withhold funds from cities and towns that don’t cooperate with federal immigration authorities.


“I am not concerned about Ipswich losing federal funding,” said Ross. “We don’t hold a suspect in custody after bail is posted or a judge releases the person. The act instructs our local police not to honor voluntary immigration detainer requests. There is no controversy about the fact that these requests are voluntary.”

Speaking at Town Meeting, Selectman Edward Rauscher said the president’s order is in violation of the Constitution.

“This is a constitutional issue and a clear overreach of the current administration,” said Rauscher. “Under the 10th Amendment, the federal government cannot commandeer state and local resources for duties that are their own. It is my duty as a US citizen to send a message, no matter how small, in support of the Constitution that is the bedrock of our country.”

Linda Greenstein can be reached at