More than 350 people jammed into City Hall’s Common Council chambers on Tuesday, Jan. 10 as the Common Council took up, and ultimately approved, a memorializing resolution expressing the city’s support for immigrant populations. It also reaffirmed a long-standing police department policy of not inquiring about the immigration status of crime victims, witnesses and others who come into contact with Kingston cops on routine matters.
After three hours of sometimes-emotional public comment from both sides of the issue, a divided council passed the resolution by a 5-3 margin. (Alderman Doug Koop, D-Ward 2, was absent from the meeting).
The resolution has its origin in a letter drafted in November and signed by 21 local clergy urging Kingston to declare itself a “sanctuary city” for undocumented immigrants. The letter was prompted by alleged incidents of harassment directed at local immigrants and Latinos following the election of Donald Trump and a general fear that Trump would follow through on promises to round up and deport millions of undocumented residents. While the letter called for an official policy of non-cooperation with federal immigration authorities, the resulting resolution followed a milder tack. Kingston Police Chief Egidio Tinti told lawmakers that the department had a longstanding unwritten policy against inquiring about the immigration status of anyone not suspected of a serious crime. The policy’s purpose, Tinti said, was to promote public safety by ensuring that immigrants, regardless of their or family members’ legal status, could feel safe when reporting crimes or otherwise interacting with city police officers. The resolution submitted by Mayor Steve Noble and eventually passed by the council reaffirmed that policy, while adding language affirming the city status as a “welcoming and inclusive” community for immigrants.
While the resolution created no new laws and changed no official policy, it has generated considerable controversy and served as a referendum on the city’s attitude towards immigration. The divide was evident at Tuesday’s meetings where about a dozen resolution opponents sported red “Make Kingston Great Again” hats obtained by city Republican Committee Chairman Joe Ingarra. Supporters of the resolution, meanwhile, marched into the council chambers waving placards and chanting, “Love not hate makes America great!”
Dozens of speakers signed up to deliver remarks during a public comment period — normally allotted 30 minutes on the agenda — that stretched on for three hours. Overall opinion ran about three to one in favor of the resolution.
Several opponents of the resolution derided the move as “feel-good” legislation that would do nothing to shield undocumented city residents from federal immigration authorities and might in fact give them a false sense of security, thereby making them more vulnerable to deportation. Ingarra called the resolution a sour-grapes reaction to Trump’s election.
“We’ve always been a welcoming city, but that does not mean we’re going to hide people from the authorities,” said Ingarra. “You are upset about the election and you’re saying, ‘I hate what happened so now I’m not going to follow the law.’”
Other opponents followed the reasoning of council Minority Leader Deborah Brown (R-Ward 9) who said she opposed the resolution based on Trump’s vow to claw back federal funds from “sanctuary cities.” Others argued that it was not the place of local government to meddle in immigration issues.
“This may seem like a hip and altruistic thing to do, but it will end up being a liability in the long run,” said Leo Schupp. “We will be picking an unnecessary fight with the Justice Department and a Trump administration that is intent on taking funding away from sanctuary cities.”
Supporters of the law argued that the resolution was a common-sense public safety measure as well as a matter of justice and a show of support for city residents, many of whom have called Kingston home for decades, who face an uncertain future based on their immigration status. Marco Ochoa, a Mexican immigrant, citizen and city property owner, talked about the role played by immigrants in revitalizing Midtown Kingston with new businesses and investment.
“We are here to work with you to make Kingston bigger and better,” said Ochoa. “We are not here to take anyone’s job, I promise you, we are just following the American Dream.”
Another speaker, Just For You Restaurant owner Leonidas Santos, described how he was facing deportation and separation from his son, an American citizen. Santos spoke after he was introduced by friend Matt Colangelo as a taxpayer and business owner who had sought legal status since 1994, only to be told recently that he had 30 days to leave the country.
“Everybody talks about justice, but sometimes justice only sees black and white,” said Santos. “But there is that little bit of gray.”
When the comment period ended and debate shift to the council, Maryanne Mills (D-Ward 7) moved to table the resolution based on minor changes to the language between the version which passed the council’s Laws and Rules committee last month.
“This resolution should be tabled based on inaccurate information presented to the council,” Mills argued.
The motion to table was defeated 6-2 after Rennie Scott-Childress (D-Ward 3) said the difference stemmed from a “clerical error” and Nina Dawson (D-Ward 4) argued that sending the resolution back to committee to be taken up next month would be a slight to hundreds who had turned out to debate the issue and witness the vote.
“To table it would be insulting to all of the people who came out tonight whether they were for it or against it,” said Dawson.
Debating the merits of the resolution, Brown, who would go on to join Mills and Alderman Tony Davis (D-Ward 6) in voting against the memorializing resolution, invoked a recent local drug raid and child-porn bust involving the Department of Homeland Security to argue that the city could find itself in the crosshairs of the Trump administration if they followed through with the resolution.
“We’re already on their radar, so I would be very careful,” said Brown.
Davis noted that the city had wrestled with other contentious issues, from segregation to fear of radical Islamic terrorism, without falling back on non-binding memorializing resolutions. “This resolution will not change how we do business in the community,” said Davis. “I believe, just like in the past, there is no resolution needed.”
But Steve Schabot (D-Ward 8) said he’d been swayed after hearing speakers express the fear felt by many in Kingston’s immigrant community. Lynn Eckert (D-Ward 1) said that the resolution had been crafted in a way to stop short of declaring Kingston a sanctuary city in a way that could incur repercussions from the federal government. Eckert also dismissed the notion that the non-binding resolution was meaningless by addressing those who spoke against it.
“You would not be here tonight speaking so passionately against it if it was meaningless,” said Eckert.