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Sanctuary Cities Stand Firm Despite Threats To Funding

Steven Senne
Boston Mayor Marty Walsh addresses a rally held to protest President Donald Trump's refugee ban in Boston in January.

Leaders of sanctuary cities around the region say a new threat by Attorney General Jeff Sessions won't change their immigration policies. 

The term “sanctuary city' is more political than legal. It's used to describe communities with a range of local ordinances. Generally, they limit the amount of cooperation and information provided by local police to U.S. immigration and customs enforcement – or ICE – agents.

These locales came under specific scrutiny when President Trump's executive order in late January targeted sanctuary cities for cuts in federal funding. Attorney General Jeff Sessions now says Department of Justice funds – up to $4.1 billion nationally – could be at stake.

"As we continue to ensure that monies that go for law enforcement only go to cities who are participating in an effective, collegial, cooperative way with the federal government, that that would also send a message."

But Massachusetts leaders aren't backing down in light of this new threat.

Boston Mayor Marty Walsh was an early and outspoken opponent of Trump's executive order on sanctuary cities, and says this latest announcement is bad for communities, calling it irresponsible and destructive.

Chelsea City Manager Thomas Ambrosino said his city does not violate any federal law. Ambrosino says the city simply doesn't collect information about immigration status. And the threat of losing Department of Justice funds, doesn't change anything.

“Chelsea feels very strongly that treating all residents regardless of their immigration status with dignity and respect is not only the appropriate policy to have but it's also the one that secures our city the most.”

Ambrosino estimated that Chelsea has several millions of dollars at stake in law enforcement funds from the Department of Justice.

Some leaders in Massachusetts sanctuary cities say their policies do not prohibit cooperation with federal immigration authorities. Instead, the policies limit the collection of immigration status information by police. So, it's not a matter of refusing to cooperate but rather simply not having the information ICE officials may request.

Somerville also has a sanctuary city ordinance on the books.

Somerville was recently listed on a Department of Homeland Security report citing jurisdictions with policies that limit cooperation with ICE.

The cities of Hartford, East Haven, and Nassau County on Long Island have also been included on that list.

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