A divided Common Council committee approved a resolution pushed by Mayor Steve Noble to declare Kingston a “sanctuary city” for illegal immigrants.
But Noble downplayed the significance of the move, saying that the resolution simply codifies existing practice and sends a symbolic message of support to community members who felt threatened by President-elect Donald Trump’s promise to round up and deport millions of undocumented residents.
“My main interest is just reaffirming that we are an inclusive and welcoming community,” said Noble at a Dec. 20 meeting of the Common Council’s Laws & Rules committee. “That’s what I came to do.”
The resolution reaffirms what Noble and Kingston Police Chief Egidio Tinti said was a longstanding unwritten policy that suggests city cops not inquire about the immigration status of civilians they come into contact with on routine matters. Instead, undocumented immigrants are only referred to federal authorities if they have committed a crime, are wanted in another jurisdiction or are suspected of involvement in human trafficking, terrorism or other federal offenses. Supporters say the policy promotes public safety by easing undocumented immigrants’ fear of routine contact with authorities. “The threat of deportation or prosecution for no reason other than immigration status may discourage may discourage residents without legal immigration status or who have family members without legal immigration status from reporting crimes or injuries, cooperating in investigations, seeking opportunities for their children living in this community or summoning help when needed,” the resolution reads.
The resolution also notes that Kingston police have no formal existing agreements to work with immigration authorities and that immigration enforcement is the responsibility of federal, not local, officials. The resolution concludes by asking the council to endorse the existing policy reading “The Common Council reaffirms the City of Kingston commitment to continue its longstanding and legal practice of not inquiring into the immigration status of individuals being provided local government services.”
The people weigh in
A dozen local residents spoke in favor or against the resolution before a crowd of about 60, offering arguments for or against the resolution. Many of the speakers, including local clergy, spoke of the fear in immigrant communities that a Trump presidency would bring about a harsh crackdown that would tear apart “mixed-status” families and create a virtual police state where routine interactions with police could have dire consequences. Octavio Guera, a Mexican immigrant, U.S. citizen and attorney, recalled a recent traffic stop where a state trooper had looked at his license and asked “what kind of name is that?” Suggesting that under an immigration crackdown, such encounters could become much more fraught.
“I do not want to live in a place where being in the wrong place at the wrong time, not having my passport and naturalization papers, I could be uprooted from a community where I work, live and own a home.”
Others argued that illegal immigrants were a drain on a financially hard-pressed community, a potential security threat and an affront to those who undertook the lengthy and expensive process of legal immigration.
“We can’t be a small community inviting everybody in,” said real-estate broker and onetime mayoral candidate Karen Vetere. “We don’t have the money, we don’t have the ways and means.”
Still others questioned the necessity of a public resolution on the issue. Kingston resident Leo Schupp called the resolution “pointless,” since the KPD was not involved in immigration issues in the first place.
“We have got to stop treating Kingston like some well-meaning nonprofit corporation and start running Kingston like the multi-million dollar corporation that it is.”
The five member Laws & Rules Committee was equally divided. Maryann Mills (D-Ward 7) wondered why the resolution was needed at all given the KPD’s longstanding policy. Minority Leader Deborah Brown (R-Ward 9) called the resolution a futile effort to “legislate people’s feelings” about illegal immigration. Committee Chairwoman Lynn Eckert (D-Ward 1) said that the resolution would not only send a message of support to the city’s immigrant community but would help guide the police commission in developing a new written protocol for handling immigration issues. Another committee member, Majority Leader Bill Carey (D-Ward 5) said he had come to the meeting prepared to vote against the resolution, but had been swayed by the testimony presented at public speaking.
“My feeling was that it doesn’t impact anything, but hearing some of the concern [expressed by speakers] clearly it does impact my neighbors and people I live and work with and people I represent,” said Carey. “On paper it doesn’t change anything but it eases some of the anxiety and makes the community a better place, a more welcoming place. I support it.”
The committee voted 3-2 to send the resolution to the full council with a positive recommendation. The full council is expected to take up the issue when it meets on Jan. 10.