Is Worcester a sanctuary city?
According to the Telegram and Gazette, November 15, 2016:
Worcester is not a sanctuary city, which is a term coined in the 1980s for a community that shelters people living in this country illegally by not using municipal funds to enforce federal immigration laws.
But as in sanctuary cities, Worcester police have adopted a policy of not asking about the immigration status of people being arrested. [Emphasis added]
That certainly doesn’t provide any clarity. We do know that Worcester has not formally declared as a sanctuary city because according to the Telegram, in 2007, “the Worcester Immigrant Coalition presented a draft version of a proposal to make Worcester a sanctuary city, defined as ‘a safe haven for refugees and immigrants.’ The proposal never reached the City Council floor.”
According to the Telegram:
In August 2007, then Worcester Police Chief Gary J. Gemme told the city Human Rights Commission that city police officers should not enforce immigration laws because doing so would threaten a basic civil right to privacy and would wreck community policing.
“The department cannot properly serve our large, law-abiding immigrant community if there is a perception that we are more concerned with a person’s immigration status than we are to provide for their safety and security.”
The former chief’s statement certainly seems to state rather clearly that we will not enforce immigration laws. It appears from the definition of a sanctuary city that Worcester is a sanctuary city.
It is unclear what the former chief means by calling people being arrested as “law-abiding.” An arrest is generally associated with not abiding the law.
Of course, 2007 was a long time ago, so maybe more recent events have clarified the issue?
According to the Telegram:
City Manager Edward M. Augustus Jr. said city police will continue to not enforce federal immigration laws.
“The men and women of the Worcester Police Department spend considerable effort creating connections with the community they serve,” Mr. Augustus said in a statement Tuesday. “Policies that make residents of the city fearful to seek help, report crimes, or provide information to the police are not in the best interest of the safety of our community. Like other major police departments, including the Massachusetts State Police, the Worcester Police Department does not enforce federal immigration laws. That policy, which makes our city a safer place, will not change.”
City Manager Augustus statement is the same as the former chief’s 9 years ago. Worcester will not enforce immigration laws, meaning that “Worcester police have adopted a policy of not asking about the immigration status of people being arrested.” According to the Manager, Worcester is a sanctuary city. Again, as with the former chief, the City Manager discusses residents fearful of reporting crimes, etc., yet the issue is about asking immigration status at time of arrest, meaning it only applies to law-breakers.
Fast forward to earlier this year. On the very same day that former Mayor Jordan Levy was proclaiming that “they should arrest Mayors and Governor’s that violate federal law” for declaring sanctuary city status, I put forward this very straight forward proclamation:
Whereas: The City of Worcester will always be welcoming of new immigrants and refugees to our city but only to those that follow our laws;
Whereas: Violating federal law may bring financial repercussions that would harm our lawful residents, both immigrant and native born, in particular the neediest and most vulnerable among us.
Therefore, Be it resolved: That City Council of the City of Worcester does hereby support federal law and does not join other communities in declaring themselves sanctuary cities and the ambiguity surrounding Worcester’s position as a sanctuary city is it to be cleared once and for all.
It states we welcome new immigrants and refugees, but not those that don’t follow our laws. It states that we shall clear up any ambiguity as to whether or not Worcester is a sanctuary city. It expresses a concern about losing federal funds.
Once and for all, the City of Worcester’s leaders would have the opportunity to declare Worcester’s status.
Rather than having a robust debate on the issue and finally declaring one way or another whether Worcester is a sanctuary city, this happened:
Telegram, January 27, 2017:
Mayor Joseph M. Petty is accusing Councilor-at-Large Michael T. Gaffney of creating an atmosphere of fear and bigotry in the city by introducing a resolution that seeks to clarify whether Worcester is a “sanctuary city.”
In an interview Friday, Mr. Petty said his City Council colleague is creating an issue that doesn’t exist, and accused Mr. Gaffney of “playing to the cheap seats”
. . .
He vowed that as mayor he will have the back of all immigrants.
“I’m pretty upset about this,” Mr. Petty said “He’s creating an issue that doesn’t exist and putting people into fear that they’re going to be deported. I’m not going to give into that bigotry. It’s a shame what Donald Trump is doing on immigration and refugees.
Mr. Petty Friday reiterated that Worcester is not a sanctuary city, but he acknowledged that city police do not enforce federal immigration laws or inquire about the immigration status of people.
The mayor pointed out that the Massachusetts State Police effectively do the same thing, thus more or less making Massachusetts a “sanctuary state.”
“No way I’m going to allow that,” Mr. Petty said. “You don’t have to say you are a sanctuary city to protect people and be a welcoming city. I don’t want to see us change what we do because that would send a message that we’re not a welcoming city.”[Emphasis added.]
Aside from calling anyone that is against sanctuary city status for Worcester “cheap seats” and accusing them of “bigotry”, it is clear from the Mayor that Worcester is an undeclared sanctuary city. If being a sanctuary city is so important to the Mayor and the City Manager, one would think that a declaration that Worcester is a sanctuary city would be in order.
But then at the City Council meeting on the issue where several hundred bused-in protestors that Mayor Petty organized to rally against “Gaffney’s Order”, as they screamed “rain, sleet, snow, Gaffney’s got to go”, the Mayor and City Council filed the above resolution. They simply refused to take a vote to finally clarify the issue, so instead of a vote on the resolution clarifying one way or the other that the City of Worcester is or isn’t a sanctuary city, they voted to file it. Whether you are for or against sanctuary status, how can it be acceptable for a City Council to refuse to vote yea or nay?
Of course, little of what actually happened at that City Council meeting is remembered as Mayor Petty stole the show. Shortly after the meeting Turtleboy Sports released unaltered audio of Mayor Petty in a hot mic moment. The Mayor of Worcester made national news, by again engaging in name calling, this time directed at his own supporters as he called them “stupid, stupid, stupid”; “morons, morons, morons”; and “not educated, not educated at all.” He admitted to making the statements in a hot mic incident and apologized. Several days later, he retracted his apology, denied he made the statements, and again made national news. WTAG reviewed the audio causing former Mayor Jordan Levy to declare “that is Joe Petty’s voice.”
And then Worcester suffered a tragedy:
WORCESTER (CBS) – The cousin of a Worcester murder victim says stronger immigration policies could have saved her loved one’s life.
Sandra Hehir was found strangled in her Worcester home back in February. WBZ has learned the man arrested for her murder, 55-year-old Jose Melendez, is living in the United States illegally. ICE has placed an immigration detainer on him to possibly deport him.
Prosecutors say Melendez was linked to Hehir’s death after DNA evidence taken from the crime scene at Sandra’s home matched an unidentified DNA profile from an unsolved Worcester rape back in 2000.
Prosecutors also say Melendez has several aliases and a long criminal record including three outstanding matters.
A woman was murdered by an alleged rapist and criminal illegal immigrant. Keep in mind that according to the Telegram the “Worcester police have adopted a policy of not asking about the immigration status of people being arrested.” And that Mayor Petty stated “that Worcester is not a sanctuary city, but he acknowledged that city police do not enforce federal immigration laws or inquire about the immigration status of people.” Which means when criminals like Mr. Melendez are arrested, the City of Worcester does not inquire about their immigration status.
Considering that the recent ruling by the Supreme Court of our Commonwealth that determined “Massachusetts law provides no authority for Massachusetts court officers to arrest and hold an individual solely on the basis of a Federal civil immigration detainer, beyond the time that the individual would otherwise be entitled to be released from State custody,” it is no longer an option to refuse to inquire about the immigration status of people being arrested as criminals like Mr. Melendez will be released back into society without any review of his immigration status.
In response to the tragic death of Ms. Hehir, Mayor Petty was quoted by the Telegram stating the following: “When I talk about protecting immigrants, I talk about law-abiding immigrants and their children. At no time have I ever opposed deporting criminals.”
After all the accusations made by Mayor Petty of bigotry and racism and organizing a protest against a fellow City Councilor, his position that “at no time have I ever opposed deporting criminals” is exactly what was call for in the resolution, “The City of Worcester will always be welcoming of new immigrants and refugees to our city but only to those that follow our laws.” Mayor Petty put the entire City through a national news storm and engaged in politics of personal destruction only to come full circle and agree with the language in the resolution!
The prediction of the potential loss of federal funds that was stated in the resolution has come to true.
The resolution stated “Violating federal law may bring financial repercussions that would harm our lawful residents, both immigrant and native born, in particular the neediest and most vulnerable among us.” It was completely foreseeable that funds would be cut by the federal government.
July 26, 2017, CBS News:
The Department of Justice (DOJ) announced that it is cracking down on grant funding for so-called “sanctuary cities,” which are cities that choose not to cooperate with federal immigration officials.
From now on, the DOJ will refuse to give funding for Edward Byrne Memorial Justice Assistance Grant Programs — a key crime-fighting source for local law enforcement agencies — to cities that refuse to partner with federal law enforcement officials in removing criminal illegal immigrants.
In the last three years Worcester received nearly $1.25 million dollars in Byrne Grant money:
- In 2014, the Main South CDC received $992,000.00 in Byrne Criminal Justice Innovation Grant money.
- In 2015 Worcester received $99,275.52 in Byrne Grant money.
- In 2016 Worcester received $156,937.00 in Byrne Grant money.
Instead of vigorous debate on the issue of sanctuary city status and truly protecting the residents of Worcester to include law abiding immigrants and refugees, Worcester was treated to politics at its worst and the costs are just beginning to be calculated.