Mayor Steve Noble has asked the Common Council to declare Kingston a “Sanctuary City.”
The phrase is commonly used to denote communities that have adopted an official policy of non-cooperation with immigration authorities. Noble said he planned to seek a symbolic statement of support for immigrant communities in Kingston, as well as support for potential policy changes in how the police department and other city agencies deal with immigration issues.
“We want to make sure that folks in Kingston recognize that we have a safe and welcoming community that’s open to everyone.”
Noble said his communication to the Common Council was prompted by requests from local clergy and the nonprofit law firm Worker Justice Center that he consider a Sanctuary City declaration in response to the election of Donald Trump as president. Trump kicked off his campaign by denouncing illegal immigrants from Mexico as rapists and drug dealers, and has vowed to deport millions of undocumented U.S. residents. According to Father Frank Alagna of Midtown’s Holy Cross/Santa Cruz Episcopal Church, who drafted a letter to Noble that was signed by 21 local clergy, Trump’s election had sparked anxiety and instances of harassment aimed at parishioners. Alagna said he had recently attended a meeting with his congregation’s lay leaders where a Latino parishioner described how his nephew, an American-born third-grader, was taunted by classmates who told him he was “not a real American” and would be “sent back where he came from” under Trump.
“That kind of said to me that we needed to do a number of things because the air had become so blue, so toxic for so many of our friends and neighbors, our brothers and sisters,” said Alagna.
The phrase “Sanctuary City” in regards to immigration dates back to the 1980’s when a number of U.S. cities adopted policies intended to protect undocumented immigrants. Specific policies vary; they range from simply prohibiting police or other city employees from inquiring about immigration status to laws that ban the use of any public resources to assist immigration officials in identifying or apprehending illegal immigrants.
According to Kingston Police Chief Egidio Tinti, the KPD has long had an unwritten policy of not asking questions about the immigration status of witnesses, crime victims or those who come into contact with police because of traffic infractions or other minor issues. Tinti said that the policy was intended to promote public safety by assuring members of immigrant communities that they could safely report crimes or otherwise interact with police. Tinti said that the policy did not apply to those suspected of serious crimes.
“If you’re a good person, a good citizen whose part of this community, that’s someone we want here,” said Tinti. “If you’re a criminal we take the measures we have to take to protect the community.”
Emma Kreyche, a workers’ rights advocate with the Kingston branch office of the Worker Justice Center, said the KPD already had a good reputation among members of the city’s immigrant community. She hoped the “Sanctuary City” initiative would give further reassurance by making the department’s unwritten policy official. Kreyche said Trump’s election had unleashed widespread fears of mass deportations and the forcible breaking up of “mixed status” families, where some members are legal residents or U.S. citizens while others have overstayed visas or crossed the border illegally. Much of that fear, she said, is based on concern that a Trump administration may enlist local law enforcement to assist the immigration crackdown.
“It’s not a significant change in terms of policy, it’s more about communicating to the community very clearly what that policy is,” said Kreyche. “It’s memorializing what’s already being practiced and reaffirming it in the face of what may be coming down the pike.”
A policy of official resistance to national immigration policy could have negative consequences for the city, however. While courts have ruled that local governments have no duty to enforce immigration authority, Trump has said that he would punish sanctuary cities by cutting off federal funding. Kingston receives about $600,000 in federal entitlement funds and more in various grants and assistance programs. While a simple memorializing resolution expressing the city’s openness to and support for immigrants would be unlikely to draw federal attention, the adoption of local laws prohibiting cooperation with immigration authorities might.
Noble said his communication to the council was simply asking for a memorializing statement “expressing our feelings around this.” But, he added, he had also directed Tinti to look at immigration policies adopted by other police agencies to determine if changes could be made in Kingston’s law or police department protocols.
“We don’t feel it’s our job to enforce federal immigration law,” said Noble. “We don’t have the tools or the manpower and we don’t feel it’s something we should be expending resources on.”