Will battle over sanctuary cities impact communities in western Massachusetts?

FILE - In this Jan. 25, 2017 file photo, a woman holds a sign at a rally outside of City Hall in San Francisco. The Trump administration is moving beyond rhetoric in its effort to crack down on so-called sanctuary cities that refuse to cooperate with federal immigration authorities. The Justice Department is forcing nine communities to prove they are complying with an immigration law to continue receiving coveted law enforcement grant money. (AP Photo/Jeff Chiu, File)

HOLYOKE, Mass. (WWLP) - Should illegal immigrants be deported based solely on their immigration status? It’s a question that has sparked a nationwide debate.

President Donald Trump signed an Executive Order back in January, that threatened to strip federal grants from so-called sanctuary cities.

U.S. District Judge William Orrick ruled against that order, after he determined it “coercive,” and violated the Constitution. "The Constitution vests the spending powers in Congress, not the President, so the Order cannot constitutionally place new conditions on federal funds,” he wrote.

President Donald Trump has still stood by his claim that sanctuary cities provide a safe haven for criminals. The I-Team examined data from Immigration and Customs Enforcement. It shows 975 of the more than 1,300 undocumented immigrants removed from Massachusetts in 2016 were either convicted of a crime, or had lied about their identity.

Trump has also vowed to take the fight over sanctuary city funding all of the way to the Supreme Court if necessary. If he does challenge the ruling, one of the first questions that may have to be answered, is the definition of a sanctuary city.

Northampton Mayor David Narkewicz told 22News, “There's not a clear definition of sanctuary cities.” Holyoke Mayor Alex Morse said, “There's no official registry or database for sanctuary cities. To me, it's a made up term.”

While there's no legal definition for a sanctuary city, the term generally applies to communities that don’t fully comply with Immigration and Customs Enforcement, as a way to protect undocumented immigrants. Currently, there are an estimated 11-million undocumented immigrants living in the U.S.

While neither Holyoke nor Northampton would directly call their cities a “sanctuary city,” they do operate under sanctuary policies.

Neither Holyoke nor Northampton question immigration status. They also don't report undocumented immigrant to ICE, unless there's a warrant out for that person's arrest.

Both Mayor Narkewicz and Mayor Morse signed executive orders in 2014, directing their police departments not to honor non-criminal detainer requests from ICE, which aims to hold undocumented immigrants past their release. Both mayors’ told the I-Team, that level of cooperation with ICE is completely voluntary.

Holyoke Mayor Alex Morse said he doesn’t believe in deporting someone who hasn’t committed a serious crime. “When it comes to traffic violations or things like that, if someone is undocumented and they happen to have a taillight out, they get pulled over, we don’t think that should be means for deportation and separating you from your family. Obviously, there are egregious crimes spelled out in the executive order I issued back in 2014, that would mandate a compliance.” he said.

ICE began publishing Detainer Outcome Reports in February as part of President Trump’s Executive Order. The reports aimed to, “highlight jurisdictions that choose not to cooperate with ICE detainers or requests for notification.”

Despite the similarities between the policies in Northampton and Holyoke, ICE’s Detainer Outcome Reports only listed Northampton as a sanctuary city.

The reports also highlighted crimes committed by undocumented immigrants, and the prisons that they say released them back into society, without giving ICE agents enough time to decide whether they should get them to begin the deportation process.

The Hampden County Jail was one of dozens named on that list. Hampden County Sheriff Nick Cocchi told the I-Team, that was a mistake. “ICE.gov has listed Hampden County Sheriff's Department as the only sheriff’s department in the Commonwealth in Massachusetts as a sanctuary county. I don't know where it came from.”

Sheriff Cocchi said they always comply with ICE requests, and give them a heads up before releasing undocumented immigrants. “We have a staff person here at the Hampden County Sheriff's Department who reviews all cases of people born outside of the country. We notify ICE on every single one of them, and we also notify them, and reach out to them, prior to releasing them.”

Cocchi explained the only ICE request they won’t comply with is a detainer request, which is when they’re asked to hold an individual for up to 48-hours past their release date, a request that he says is unconstitutional, “What the law says, and what the judicial system has determined, is that unless it's a judicial warrant and it comes from a judge, nobody has the right to detain somebody, it's that simple,” he said.

ICE suspended their weekly Detainer Outcome Reports in April, following complaints over accuracy.

Detainer Outcome Report

Immigration and Customs Enforcement issued weekly Declined Detainer Outcome Reports from the end of January to the beginning of April. The reports included cities that they say, don't cooperate with federal detention efforts. Those reports have since been suspended due to concerns over accuracy. To see one of the old reports, CLICK HERE.



MAP: Sanctuary Cities, Counties, and States

There is no legal definition for "sanctuary cities," but the term generally applies to any jurisdiction that limits how local law enforcement can cooperate with federal immigration agents.

To see the Center for Immigration Study's map of sanctuary cities, CLICK HERE.To see the Immigrant Legal Resource Center's map of sanctuary cities, CLICK HERE.

Where did "sanctuary cities" come from?

The sanctuary movement began in the 1980s, when churches, synagogues and other religious institutions began providing refuge to undocumented immigrants who had left their homes in places including Guatemala and El Salvador due civil unrest, but were denied sanctuary in the U.S.

As the Sanctuary Movement spread, cities and towns began passing resolutions with so-called “sanctuary policies,” which included forbidding city employees from assisting in the enforcement of federal law.

The modern day “sanctuary city movement,” was inspired by that movement from the 1980s.

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