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Arlington eyes ‘sanctuary town’ resolution

Arlington Town Hall.John Hilliard for The Boston Globe

ARLINGTON — Local officials are considering a “sanctuary town” resolution aimed at protecting Arlington’s undocumented residents from aggressive enforcement of federal immigration laws.

If the measure is approved at Town Meeting, Arlington would join a number of other Massachusetts communities, including Boston and Somerville, that have taken public stances limiting their cooperation with immigration authorities.

Two proposals — one from the local human rights commisson and the other from a group of residents — call on Arlington police not to help enforce federal immigration laws or inquire about the immigration status of the people they encounter.

Selectmen voted Monday to place a resolution on the Town Meeting warrant, but have not yet decided whether to recommend it for approval. The language is still being determined.


Daniel Dunn, vice chairman of the selectmen, said the purpose would be to help build trust between local police and undocumented immigrants.

He said local municipal officials have a responsibility to ensure residents feel safe in their communities, particularly in a “political environment” in which immigrants may not feel secure.

“What you can do is talk about what you stand for, and make the town a welcoming place you think it should be,” said Dunn, calling it an issue of “right and wrong.”

Dunn said the town’s lawyer is working with the Arlington Human Rights Commission on the specific wording of the resolution. Selectmen will decide whether to support it before the Town Meeting vote in April.

President Trump vowed Wednesday to take aggressive steps to expel unauthorized immigrants, saying he would seek to strip federal funding from sanctuary cities that do not help deport immigrants.

Arlington’s town manager, Adam Chapdelaine, said the town receives about $5 million each year in federal money, mostly in community block grants to fund services for Arlington’s most vulnerable residents, including those with low incomes and senior citizens.


“Taking money out of that pot would have dramatic impact for town and the schools,” he said.

He said the Trump administration has yet to release details on how cuts would be made if a community publicly declared itself a “sanctuary” city or town.

The Newton City Council is also considering enacting formal rules to govern when police and other city officials can review someone’s immigration status and cooperate with federal immigration officials.

Arlington police Chief Fred Ryan said that the resolution would not change the approach of local officers, who are more concerned with stopping violent crimes than enforcing federal immigration laws.

“It’s not how we train our staff, it’s not how we resource our staff, it’s not what we do,” Ryan said.

He said local police don’t check the immigration status of those they encounter. When someone is arrested, their fingerprints are shared with other law enforcement agencies. If someone in custody has a detainer issued by US Immigration and Customs Enforcement, local police will be informed, he said.

Such cases aren’t common in Arlington: In about 1,000 arrests over the past three years, Ryan said, there was one ICE detainer.

In the region, undocumented residents can be victimized due to their immigration status and can fear approaching police, he said.

“We want to create a culture where victims of crime trust their police and are willing to coming to forward,” said Ryan.


John Hilliard can be reached at john.hilliard@globe.com.