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Sanctuary town? One yes, one no

The Sunday Globe West in "The Argument" published on Feb. 12 asks: "Should Arlington become a sanctuary community?" Responding in the affirmative is Dan Dunn, member of the Board of Selectmen, and in the negative is town resident Christine French. Their views are republished with each author's permission.

DUNN: In practice, Arlington is already a sanctuary town and we should broadcast this fact for the safety of our community and neighbors. While the final language of our sanctuary resolution will not be decided until Town Meeting this spring, the general idea is that our Police Department will not check or report to federal authorities the immigration status of people they meet during routine encounters.

We are not protecting felons or violent offenders. Anyone committing a crime against another person should be jailed, deported, or both.

Our police chief tells us that we are a safer town when we have the cooperation of our immigrant communities. We want to encourage our neighbors, when victims of abuse or witnesses of criminal activity, to cooperate with law enforcement without fear of retribution or deportation. With trust and cooperation, we can more effectively take dangerous criminals off the streets and create a safe community.

So why should we take this action now? If Arlington already functions as a sanctuary town, why invite retaliation from the federal government now by formalizing it? I answer like this:

There are people who are afraid every day, and their fear has grown in the current national political environment. They are from countries where the government was their enemy and the police a threat. Think of the woman working in indentured servitude at the spa or in the sex trade, who doesn’t see a way out. Think of the child beaten by his parents, but afraid to tell the teacher at school. Think of the employee being cheated out of his wages because of his status. Such people need to know that Arlington is a safe and welcoming place.

The risk of being a sanctuary town is that the federal government might try to take action against us by depriving us of federal funding. However, courts have ruled that federal dollars cannot be withheld for unrelated programs. We are confident that our education and housing grants can’t be withheld under that rule and very little remaining federal funding is at risk.

People in Arlington need to know that their town will protect them.

FRENCH: As a lifelong resident of Arlington, I believe the town’s declaration of sanctuary status would be detrimental to a town already over-taxed and financially stressed. The action would also potentially place us in conflict with federal law, putting Arlington at risk of losing approximately $5 million it receives in annual federal funds.

Our School Department faces a more than $800,000 deficit. We have an overcrowded middle school in desperate need of renovations and a high school that needs rebuilding. Federal funding will be a necessity for these costs and many others. Arlington cannot afford to risk losing any funding. Already, senior citizens are being forced to sell homes they have lived in all their lives because they can no longer afford the costly town taxes.

As part of a group of residents who voiced concerns to the town selectmen, I felt their responses showed more sympathy to helping a small fraction of people rather than concern for every member of the community.

The responses appeared to grossly underestimate the cost to Arlington. Unlike the cities of Somerville and Boston, Arlington does not have the commercial, industrial, and institutional tax base that can withstand this potential reduction in federal money.

More importantly, I felt they were turning a legal issue into a moral issue. As a mother of two young children, I am extremely concerned about the message this decision would be sending. We do not get to pick the laws we want to obey. Arlington’s elected officials are chosen by the people to make sound judgments about the town and its legal citizens.

Arlington has always been and will continue to be, an inclusive community. We do not need to break federal law and risk losing federal funds in order to label ourselves a “sanctuary city” when in fact, according to police chief Fred Ryan, we already police the town as such.

Ultimately, for me, this is not a political issue but purely a financial and legal issue. Instead of ignoring laws, we should work to change them. Join together as a town, to support immigrants toward the legal path of US citizenship.

This viewpoint was published Sunday, Feb. 12, 2017.

DO YOU AGREE, DISAGREE? Comment below. You must include your full name as well as your connection to Arlington, Mass.

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