Trust Act Presentation - Feb 26th, 2017

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The Arlington Human Rights Commission held this informational session on our proposed Trust Act Article. The meeting was held in the town hall auditorium.

The Trust Act article is non-binding. This process began in Nov 2016, when residents brought concerns about president Trump's proposed immigration plans to the human rights commission, who in turn brought those concerns to the Board of Selectmen. We want people to know that Arlington doesn't discriminate on the basis of immigration status. We want immigrants to feel safe reporting crimes, without fear of being deported.

Speaker (member of the Arlington Human Rights commission): I came to the United States in 1956, as a political refugee from Hungary. My family fled the country after a failed coup attempt against the communist government. We settled in Ohio and were welcomed by the community there. I've worked as a peace corps volunteer, a public school teacher, and a clinical psychologist. In the 1950's, anti-Soviet sentiment made us willing to accept people from Soviet countries. People who come here today (e.g., from central America) are fleeing their countries for the same reasons. Human rights belong to everyone, whether they're like us or not.

Speaker (Joe Curro, Selectmen): On January 23rd, the Board of Selectmen voted to co-sponsor the trust act article. The article has been in the works for months. It was by co-incidence that the article hearing happened two days before Trump's executive order banning immigrants from seven countries. I've worked as a refugee resettlement counselor. We have a responsibility to protect those who live, work, and visit here. The town encourages people to start new businesses here, and a huge number of people who start these businesses come from other countries. Fifty or sixty different languages are spoken in the homes of Arlington school students. As a community, we should stand up and say "you don't have to be afraid". We will protect and serve everyone, regardless of national origin, the color of your skin, etc. This resolution is non-binding, but it's an affirmative statement.

Arlington's police department has a strong partnership with the human rights commission. They're very focused on community policing. We've taken in people fleeing from El Salvador and Sudan. Lots of people risked their lives, traveling through desserts in the southwest to come here. Now, they're risking their lives to travel through the North Dakota winter, to flee to Canada.

Speaker (another Human Rights Commissioner, who works for Senator Donnelley): The Massachusetts Safe Communities Act is a bill filed this session, by Senator Jamie Eldridge. The bill would ensure that local law enforcement fights crime, and doesn't focus on federal immigration status. The bill would prohibit the state from forming a registry based on any protected characteristics. The bill does not provide immunity from any criminal behavior.

Speaker (a Captain from the Arlington Police Department): We have a community policing philosophy. It's important for people to know their police officers, and to be able to talk with them. The police need public approval in order to do their job.

I'm reminded of Sir Robert Beale's nine principles of policing, which he wrote in 1830. Those principals still apply today.

Today, the APD does a lot of out reach, to different organizations. It's a two-way street: the police help people, and people help the police. The police are the community, and the community are the police.

Speaker (woman from Pakistan): I was born and raised in Pakistan, and came to the United States to attend grad school. Many immigrants don't have access to a fair work environment, or to living wages. I want all immigrants to be treated with dignity. I've lived in Arlington for five years, and I've always felt safe and welcome here. Becoming a sanctuary town is an intentional act, and an ongoing commitment. But Arlington has really been doing this all along. There are around 65 million refugees in the world today; most of them live in Sudan, Iran, Lebanon, Pakistan, China, and Turkey. Sudan and Iran have been heavily sanctioned, but they still take in refugees. Today's sanctuary movement started in response to problems with our current immigration system. For immigrants from some countries, like countries in central America, a change in status can take more than ten years. We're all strangers and temporary visitors. To unwelcome a stranger is to unwelcome ourselves.

Speaker (Jeff Thielman, School Board): My day job is with the International Institute of New England. We help resettle refugees from all over the world. We're living in an era of fear; our president wants everyone to be afraid of everyone else. We have to stand up and fight fear. We're on the side of immigrants and refugees. It's important to pass the trust act; it says who we are.

The US passed laws limiting immigration in 1924; that's when international institutes started forming all across the country, to ensure that immigrants felt welcome. (The Nationalities Act was the law that restricted immigration.) These actions mean a lot to people, and over time, they change the country.

Speaker (Adam Chapdelaine, Town Manager): One issue of consideration is the potential loss of federal funding. Each year, the town receives $4.5M in federal funding, and $2.5M of that goes out our schools, by way of the state. Community development block grants are another way we receive federal funds. We don't receive programmatic funding from DHS, but we occasionally receive money from FEMA.

Speaker (Doug Heim, Town Counsel): There's potentially a financial risk to the town. First, we have to ask "what does it mean to violate this executive order?" We don't know how the Trump administration will interpret their own executive order.

There are three categories of non-cooperation: (1) information exchanges with Immigration and Customs Enforcement. We won't gather information for discriminatory purposes. (2) There is no legal definition of "sanctuary city" or "trust act". A resolution articulates a position, but it isn't necessarily on the books. APD currently doesn't honor ICE detainers. ICE detainers often don't have enough information to constitute probable cause. ICE is often slow to take detained individuals into custody, which shifts detainment costs onto cities and towns. (3) Join operations with federal officials for "roundups". We've never done that. We're more interested in building trust with our residents.

There is a moderate risk, but it's not clear how the Trump administration would decide if we're in violation of their executive order. The federal government does have the ability to put restrictions on funding, but those restrictions have to be related to what the money is being used for. Other parts of the united states have opposed federal legislation; opposition to the ACA, for example. San Francisco, Chelsea, and Lawrence have each filed suit against the administration, regarding the executive order on immigration. But, the Trump administration could decide to push the envelope, and we'd have to fight them on it. Overall, the risk is low, and it's oriented to funds we don't receive.

Question and Answer session.

Question: What is a non-binding resolution? I've also heard several disturbing stories about ICE raids.

Under the structure of our town government, we don't have means for town meeting to dictate policy to the Arlington Police Department. But this article provides a statement of town meeting's position. We've used non-binding resolutions to make declarations in the past. The federal government cannot conscript our police department into doing their work for them. This resolution will not prevent ICE from conducting their own investigations in Arlington.

Question: If town meeting can only pass a non-binding resolution, what are the options for passing a binding resolution?

In order to pass a binding resolution, we'd have to change our town manager act, or change our town's form of government. Also, anything that town meeting passes has to be vetted by the state Attorney General.

Comment: ICE detainers don't provide enough detail for probable cause. The Massachusetts State Police don't have the authority to arrest someone solely on the basis of an ICE detainer, and the state supreme court just agreed to take a case to this effect. 42 USC 1983 specifies damages for arrests which violate constitutional rights. Making unconstitutional arrests would expose the town to the risk of legal liability.

Question: Did you invite any panelists who oppose this act?

No, this was intended to be an information session, and was organized by the proponents of the article. Some residents have expressed concerns about the article, namely that it will bring in terrorists and more immigrants. The selectmen's hearing on this article is scheduled for tomorrow night.

Question: Does this fix an actual problem in Arlington? There doesn't seem to be an upside to it. Would this affect human trafficking investigations?

There is a risk but it appears to be a low one. There are two statutes from 1996 that dictate how local government can participate in immigrations enforcement, and that participation is voluntary. This article does not affect the police department's ability to conduct investigations.

Question: How has being a sanctuary city worked out for Somerville?

Somerville has been a sanctuary city for 30 years. In the same 30 years, our crime rate has decreased by 50%. That's not directly attributable to being a sanctuary city, be we do think that being a sanctuary city helped in that regard. Fear is a very real thing, especially for families with kids. They're afraid to send their kids to school, afraid to report crimes, afraid of going to the doctor, and afraid of reporting domestic abuse. Being able to explain yourself is part of the responsibility of being a sanctuary city. You'll have to educate yourselves. For example, undocumented immigrants tend to commit fewer crimes, because the risk in doing so is higher. They don't want to be deported. You don't necessarily want to change who you are for a bucket of money.

Question: How is information shared with and communicated to ICE?

We've only had a few incidents involving ICE. We take fingerprints, and they have to be sent to the state. This is how we verify identity, and tell if the individual has outstanding warrants from another jurisdiction. The police have always sent fingerprints to the FBI, who maintains a federal database. But now, the FBI is sharing those fingerprints with ICE.

Question: Regarding arrests, are fingerprints taken for every arrest?

No. For example, as a rule we don't arrest kids. Getting hold of their parents is a better option.

Question: If we lose federal funding, can the town counter this? Perhaps by deducting the money from our federal tax payments?

Don't not pay your taxes.

There are lots of sanctuary cities and towns in the United States, and nearly all of these cities are important to the US economy. Taking money away from those cities would have a spiraling effect. There's a lot of existing case law regarding federal funding, and that gives us some confidence.

Comment: I've lived in Arlington my entire life, and I've never felt so proud to be part of this town.

Comment: I dispute the claim that Somerville has been a sanctuary city for 30 years. That resolution expired in the 1980's and it's never been renewed.

The information you're citing comes from an article by the Somerville News, and that article is incorrect. Somerville's sanctuary city resolution has been renewed several times, over the years.