It may be a non-binding memorializing resolution, but a proposal by Mayor Steve Noble to declare Kingston a “sanctuary city” — welcoming to immigrants regardless of legal status — is generating debate and opposition as it heads to the Common Council floor next week.
Noble’s proposal passed the council’s Laws & Rules committee by a 3-2 vote last month. The full council will take up the issue on Tuesday, Jan. 10 with Noble in attendance to deliver his state of the city speech. The resolution offers an official endorsement of the Kingston Police Department’s longstanding unwritten policy of not asking crime witnesses, victims or those who come in contact with police for low-level issues like traffic infractions about their immigration status. The resolution also includes language affirming the city’s status as a welcoming community for immigrants.
Supporters say that the resolution, inspired by a letter to the mayor by over 20 of its clergy, is simply a message of support for immigrant communities that feel threatened by the election Donald J. Trump. During his campaign, Trump denounced undocumented immigrants as criminals and a threat to national security, and vowed to deport millions of them. Supporters of the resolution note that nothing in it prevents police from going after illegal immigrants who have committed serious crimes, nor does it extend any benefits or other recognition to them.
But backlash against the proposal has been growing since it was introduced last month. A Facebook event created to recruit opponents of the resolution, “Stop City of Kingston from making Kingston a sanctuary city” drew more than 100 responses. An online poll conducted by Ulster Publishing’s HudsonValleyOne.com website drew as of the afternoon of Wednesday, Jan. 3 2,699 responses, with 52 percent favoring the sanctuary city declaration and 48 percent opposing.
GOP charges ‘publicity stunt’
City Republicans, who have long been in decline and now hold just a single elective office in the city, have seized on the issue to blast Noble as out of touch with the concerns of everyday citizens. Kingston Republican Committee Chairman Joseph Ingarra derided the effort as a “publicity stunt” to appease liberal sentiment. Ingarra noted that the city’s cops have never been involved in immigration enforcement, while the city itself has no power to prevent federal immigration authorities from operating in the city.
“I don’t understand how it benefits the city,” said Ingarra of the resolution. “What does it do other than say, ‘We’re smart people, we know it all.’”
Others expressed concern that simply making public the city’s openness would attract undocumented immigrants to the area, putting a strain on local schools and social services. County Sheriff Paul VanBlarcum, a Democrat who has staked out conservative positions on issues like gun control, said he worries that the proposal could have a countywide impact.
“If people come here because they’re invited by the City of Kingston, if they need services, that’s going to be on all county taxpayers, not just the ones in Kingston,” said VanBlarcum.
VanBlarcum said that while the Ulster County Sheriff’s Office does not perform immigration enforcement as a routine matter, deputies and corrections staff do and will continue to inquire about immigration status when appropriate. VanBlarcum added that the larger issue was on the federal level where an overburdened enforcement system rarely responded unless a suspect was wanted for a serious crime.
“If they come and they’re here illegally we let [U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement] know and if they post bail or their time’s up and ICE asks us to hold them, we hold them,” said VanBlarcum of undocumented residents who show up in the county jail. “The problem is ICE has so much on their plate they usually won’t take them.”
Other opponents of the sanctuary city proposal invoke principles of fairness and public safety. Common Council Minority Leader Deborah Brown (R-Ward 9) voted against the resolution in committee after describing her Taiwanese daughter-in-law’s family’s lengthy and expensive efforts to gain citizenship lawfully. “Why should people be allowed to jump the line?” asked Brown. Jean Jacobs, a former city Republican committeewoman, said publicizing openness to the undocumented could have serious negative consequences.
“By saying we’re a safe haven we’re opening the door to all kinds of things, I’m talking about sex trafficking, things of that nature,” said Jacobs. “Public safety is being compromised.”