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  • Cambridge City Council

City Council Working to Strengthen Sanctuary City Status

City Council Working to Strengthen Sanctuary City Status

"This is important to ensure that our sanctuary city status is more than just words."

Cambridge City Council is currently working to pass an ordinance that would establish Cambridge as a Welcoming Community. If adopted, this ordinance would strengthen the city’s current Sanctuary City status and restrict its involvement in federal immigration enforcement.

The Cambridge Welcoming Community Ordinance, first introduced in a May 6 general city council meeting by Councillor Dennis Carlone, is co-sponsored by six of the council’s nine members. The ordinance is also supported by the Massachusetts branch of the ACLU, the Brazillian Workers Center, and the Somerville-based Welcome Project.

The text of the ordinance (which can be accessed here) emphasizes that Cambridge will enforce laws and treat all individuals equally, without consideration of immigration status or national origin. Furthermore, police officers and other city employees will not be allowed to inquire about an individual’s immigration status in most situations.

The ordinance states that the Cambridge Police Department cannot arrest individuals solely on the basis of an Immigration Customs and Enforcement (“ICE”) detainers or administrative warrants. The ordinance also prohibits Cambridge PD from sharing information with ICE, participating in ICE raids, giving ICE access to individuals in the city’s custody, or otherwise assisting with federal immigration enforcement operations.

Cambridge has held Sanctuary City status since 1985. Mayor Marc C. McGovern defended this policy on “Fox and Friends” earlier this year amidst President Donald Trump’s ongoing challenges to federal immigration policies. I reached out to Councillor Carlone via email to ask why he introduced the new ordinance and how it relates to Cambridge’s Sanctuary City status.

“Cambridge already proudly proclaims itself a Sanctuary City, but this is currently just a policy that can be changed at any moment by the City Manager. The Welcoming Community ordinance codifies it into law,” said Carlone.

“This is important to ensure that our sanctuary city status is more than just words. The Welcoming Community ordinance also strengthens aspects of our Sanctuary City status, making it one of the strongest sanctuary laws in the country."

The Welcome Project, Somerville’s leading immigrant organization, provided the City Council with the legal text that has been used as the basis for the ordinance. The non-profit has been serving and empowering local immigrant communities since its founding in 1987.

Somerville passed its own Welcoming Community city ordinance — also with help from The Welcome Project — in June of this year. Newton was the first city in the area to become a Welcoming Community back in May 2017, modeling its ordinance after similar ones adopted by other cities around the US.

On October 2 the City Council’s Ordinance Committee convened to discuss the Welcoming Community ordinance, as well as potential amendments suggested by the Cambridge Police Department. The most significant piece of police feedback was that the ordinance would be better as a policy, to which Councillor Alana Mallon later clarified that policies are generally less enforceable than ordinances.

“Most of the edits proposed by the Cambridge Police Department are thoughtful attempts to protect residents and don’t negatively impact the intent of the ordinance. There are some edits, however, such as removing language around prioritizing a summons over arrest for car stops, that defeat the purpose of the ordinance,” Carlone said in his email.

“I also disagree with the suggestion that this remain a policy instead of ordinance. If this is already our policy it is concerning that we would not be willing to codify it into law.”

The Cambridge Police Department’s Public Information Office was also contacted for this article, but the Department’s Director of Communication Jeremy Warnick declined to comment. Warnick said doing so would be “too premature,” since the ordinance is still in the process of being reviewed and discussed by city staff.

Also in attendance for the October 2 committee meeting were City Solicitor Nancy Glowa and Laura Rotolo, staff counsel from the ACLU. The City Solicitor requested that City staff be given more time to review the proposed language, particularly how it would impact the police and school departments.

Rotolo said that she did not oppose most of the police department’s amendments, and later explained that the city would still be allowed to share information with other non-ICE federal agencies. She also suggested adding in a section that would clarify that the police department will continue to support the federal government’s anti-human trafficking operations.

The October 2 meeting ended with a unanimous vote for city staff to review the ordinance and present any potential amendments to the Ordinance Committee before the next committee meeting on the issue.

“It is disappointing that the Welcoming Community ordinance was held up due to procedural issues with the solicitor’s office, but I am confident we will get it done soon,” said Carlone.

Currently, there is no official date set for the next meeting. The City Council’s meeting calendar shows that there are six more Ordinance Committee meetings scheduled in 2019, but none of them seem to involve the Welcoming Community ordinance.

“We have not scheduled a date for a follow up ordinance meeting. I hope to do that very soon… I hope we can pass this soon and stand with our immigrant residents,” said Carlone.