EASTHAMPTON, Mass. (WWLP) – The issue of becoming a “sanctuary city” has divided the City of Easthampton. It’s one of multiple items discussed at Wednesday night’s City Council meeting, and has been a controversial topic for residents.
After several meetings, residents described as tense and heated, City Councilor Tamara Smith motioned to withdraw the proposal to designate the city a “sanctuary city”. According to the City Council, the City Solicitor found that the council did not have the authority to pass an ordinance that would direct a department, though the Mayor of Easthampton does.
More than 200 Easthampton residents said they don’t want the city to become a “sanctuary city”. The City Council received petitions and emails from residents who are afraid the change would go against federal regulations. Some residents fear cuts to federal funding if the city moves forward with the “sanctuary city designation”.
There is also a petition asking City Councilors and the Mayor to pass a “sanctuary city” ordinance. If approved, Easthampton wouldn’t turn immigrants over to the federal government unless they’re involved in criminal activity. One City Councilor said they would rather use the name “Trust Act” to avoid the misconceptions that come with the term “sanctuary city”.
The council allowed for public comment following Councilor Smith’s motion, and residents spoke passionately on both sides of the issue, some still hoping to keep the resolution to become a “sanctuary city” alive. Andrea Stone of Easthampton said, “The previous one was even more heated than this one. I was surprised, which is why I think it was important for me to speak out, even in this public manner. I normally wouldn’t do. I’m committed I want to keep going.”
Some argue the city needs to address it’s issues first, before inviting more people in. Angela Kleeberg told 22News, “I know we have a lot of homeless people here in our own area, so I just really think that we should try and focus on what’s here, what’s now.” Kleeberg told 22News she’s not necessarily against making Easthampton a “sanctuary city”, but believes the decision shouldn’t be a priority right now.
Sanctuary supporters like Easthampton resident Jesse Harrison say passing this ordinance could make more people feel safe in this political climate. “We need to do whatever we can on a local level,” said Harrison. “I’ve been all over the place and I find everyone is pretty much the same. I don’t think immigrants are any more dangerous than anyone else.”
Councilor Smith said Easthampton is still committed to being a safe and welcoming city. Easthampton’s Police Chief addressed the crowd and said he would not be assigning police officers to any federal task forces, including those related to immigration.