The Northern Westchester Examiner

Somers Board Takes No Action on Sanctuary City Designation Request

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By Neal Rentz

The often heated issue of municipalities cooperating with the federal government to remove undocumented immigrants not accused of crimes has moved to the Town of Somers.

The Sanctuary City debate has gained steam since President Donald Trump was inaugurated. The new administration has called for tougher enforcement of immigration laws and has threatened cutting off some federal aid to Sanctuary Cities.

On April, the Somers Town Board declined to a request from several local residents to make the town a Sanctuary City. Earlier this month, resident Michael Blum presented the town board with a petition signed by about 100 people calling on Somers have that designation.

In response to the petition, Supervisor Rick Morrissey read a prepared statement at last week’s town board meeting in opposition to having Somers become a Sanctuary City.

“The petition seeks to reaffirm Somers as a welcoming community,” Morrissey said. “The town has and always will welcome all people of good will, regardless of their race, religion, ethnicity, gender, sexual orientation, immigration status or political viewpoint. The town board has made a pledge to protect the civil rights of all residents when we were sworn into office and that commitment has not wavered. Discrimination of any kind will not be tolerated by this town government.”

Morrissey said the petition “seeks to codify some policies, including those having to do with immigration status.”

Legislation to make New York a Sanctuary State is supported by the Assembly but not the state Senate, Morrissey noted, adding Governor Andrew Cuomo has not expressed support for the proposal.

Enforcement of immigration laws is not a local issue, Morrissey said. All police departments in the state are mandated to enforce state and local laws, he said. “Immigration is a federal law which does not fall under the town’s purview,” he said.

Morrissey said he would leave public safety and enforcement up to the police department.

“I do not believe it’s in the best interest of our residents for the town board to codify procedures that frankly do not impact our local government operations,” Morrissey remarked.

Blum said the wanted the town board to consider the petition. But Councilman Thomas Garrity said he and his colleagues represent all of the roughly 21,000 residents of Somers, not just 100 people who signed Blum’s petition. About a dozen of the people who signed the petition do not live in Somers, Garrity said. Blum said he was not speaking for all Somers residents on the immigration issue.

Councilman William Faulkner said it was not up to the town to decide which laws to enforce.

Blum told the town board he was willing to work with it to change the language in his petition to make it acceptable to them.

All but one of the residents who spoke about the Sanctuary City concept supported it last week. Catherine Gallagher asked that since none of the town board members (Councilman Anthony Cirieco did not attend last week’s meeting) were willing to approve becoming a Sanctuary City if the issue could be tabled and brought back to a future agenda. While none of the town board members spoke in favor of tabling the issue, Garrity told Gallagher any resident seeking to speak about the issue in the future could do so during the public comment periods of a town board meeting.

The only resident who spoke in opposition to Somers becoming a Sanctuary City was John Mackey, second assistant fire chief of the Somers Volunteer Fire Department. “I think Somers is a very welcoming, diverse community,” he said. Mackey said he was concerned the town would lose federal grants if it became a Sanctuary City.

Resident Tim Hart told the town board Mackey could not speak for all Somers residents. Faulkner replied that the signers of the Sanctuary City petition also do not speak for all town residents.

Blum reiterated that he was willing to work with the town board to come up with language different that what was included in the petition. “I don’t have a need to use the words Sanctuary City,” Blum said.

Morrissey said law abiding undocumented immigrants should not be afraid of being turned over to the federal government. “People in this community should not be living in fear,” he said. “No town employees ask people in town for their legal status,” he said

Blum, who is an immigrant, said he personally knows of the mistreatment of immigrants. A town resident who moved from his native Iran to America said a lawn mower blade was recenlty thrown through a window at his friend’s businesses in Connecticut.

Councilman Richard Clinchy said he agreed with many of the sentiments of those who signed the Sanctuary City petition, but maintained he could not support it. The term Sanctuary City could be interpreted by some to be an expression of being “anti-Trump” and others could interpret being against the Sanctuary City concept as being “pro-Trump,” Clinchy said.

Clinchy he was concerned about having the town board take sides in a national and often partisan issue. He added he did not want the board to weigh in on “the things that divide us.”

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