UPDATED, Feb. 27: The following statement by Beth Soltzberg, a volunteer with the Arlington-Teosinte Sister City Project for the past 12 years, is published with the author's permission. Following it are expressions of support sent to selectmen. YourArlington welcomes comments and statements on the sanctuary issue from all sides. Comment below or send a statement here >> Please include your full name.
I'm writing to share what I've learned about Arlington's pending "Sanctuary Town/Trust Act" resolution. I'd encourage you to attend the selectman's meeting on Monday, Feb. 27, at 7:15 p.m., second floor at Town Hall, where residents will have the opportunity to testify about their opinion.
This issue could be very divisive for Arlington. I hope that everyone at the meeting on 2/27 can respect and listen to each other. We are dealing with scary unknowns, and reasonable people can draw different conclusions. I'm just sharing mine.
There are two big unknowns:
1.) Could President Trump actually cut off federal funds, besides Dept. of Homeland Security (DHS) funds, for sanctuary towns? Arlington gets no DHS funds, but we do rely on other federal funds. Legal precedent says that Trump could NOT cut off other funds. But we can never say never with this administration. Most of the opposition to Arlington's resolution is because of the fear that funds for schools and public housing could be threatened. (This is also the main source of opposition in Newton [it has adopted a "welcoming city" ordinance].
2.) Could President Trump deputize town police to make them act as agents of ICE? This is part of his executive order, and IT IS happening in some parts of the U.S. However, the town police and sheriff departments that are currently actively enforcing ICE policies may have sought this role. Our police chief, Fred Ryan, has made a commitment that Arlington will continue to follow community policing practices no matter what. (Community policing fits with the principles of a sanctuary community, because both approaches focus on building trust between community members and police departments. Arlington's police department pledges not to check immigration status unless a person is arrested for a crime.)
We simply cannot know the answer to these two questions when our town government makes its decision. However, I believe that the Sanctuary Town resolution would make us all a little safer, and our town a little better, right now. Here's why:
1. In this political climate, a public commitment to sanctuary/community policing is necessary to counter what the Trump administration is saying and doing. Immigrants without documentation are really scared right now. Under Trump ICE has arrested and deported people who have no criminal record other than being in the U.S. without documentation, including a 23-year old DACA (Dreamer) eligible young man. I'm on email lists of organizations like Centro Presente which work with immigrants in Greater Boston, and they are furiously working to get information out to immigrants about their rights and how to protect themselves against possible arrest. The climate has changed dramatically. If we want people who live and work in Arlington, without documentation, OR who might be assumed to be immigrants, to feel safe reporting crime to our police, we have to do this.
2. Trump is using immigrants, and Muslims, as scapegoats, in order to gain power. The rate of unauthorized immigration into the U.S. is flat. It is not rising. Immigrants overall have a lower crime rate than US-born citizens. And as we know, the countries named in the travel ban are NOT where anyone who has ever committed acts of terrorism in the US came from. Most of them were from the US. Trump's policies make no sense - except for him. Scapegoats make a complicated world look simple, and give everyone a bad guy to hate. This really does have echos of the rise of Hitler. How many of us have wondered why German citizens didn't stop Hitler? I'm proud that Arlington is one of many towns and cities across the U.S. that is using the sanctuary town approach as one way to oppose Trump's scapegoating.
3. There is no legal route open for the large percentage of immigrants without documentation who are actually refugees. I've been involved with the U.S.-El Salvador sister-cities movement for almost 30 years, and through this I've learned more of the "backstory" about unauthorized immigration. More than half of unauthorized immigrants through Mexico are from El Salvador, Honduras and Guatemala. El Salvador and Honduras keep leap-frogging each other as having the highest homicide rate in the world; Guatemala is not far behind. The UNHCR and advocacy groups have done studies, showing that about 60% of the migrants from El Salvador, Honduras and Guatemala meet the criteria to be considered refugees. Studies show that without a lawyer, over 90% of those seeking asylum are deported. Very few immigrants are able to obtain the services of a lawyer; they do not have the money, and there are simply not enough immigration lawyers. Despite the fact that the journey through Central America and Mexico is incredibly dangerous and many are robbed, raped, or killed on the way, and that Central Americans know that they are likely to be deported and that life in the US is no picnic, people keep coming. One quote I've heard about this situation: "When your house is on fire, you get out."
4. One story you never hear is that the U.S. government bears a lot of responsibility for the poverty and violence in Central America. My first trip to El Salvador was in 1989, during its civil war. I stayed in a village under occupation by the Salvadoran army. This army was funded and trained by the U.S. I witnessed the terror of parents and children in the presence of soldiers. In other villages not under occupation, parents showed me photos of their massacred children, lying in the dust in front of their huts. I spoke with many people who had been tortured. Their crime? Seeking the right to organize labor and to vote in free elections. When I returned to El Salvador a year later, a Republican congressional aide traveled with our group. It was he who picked up shrapnel from a crop field that was shelled while we watched, from about 2 football fields distance away, and days later threw it on the desk of the official at the U.S. Embassy, in response to this official's statement that, "The US-supported military does not target civilian areas."
At this time, Reagan's Secretary of State Alexander Haig was quoted as calling this region "America's backyard." Despite steady reports of atrocities by the Salvadoran military, the Reagan administration justified US intervention as "drawing a line in the sand" against communism. The Salvadoran guerrilla army (the FMLN), like the FSLN in Nicaragua, was portrayed in the US as a communist movement. These were actually movements of lots and lots of poor people whose families had been migrant plantation laborers and sharecroppers since Spain set these countries up as colonies in the 1500s. There were a few ideological communists in the mix, but most were people who had suffered far worse abuse than our Founding Fathers, but who like our Founding Fathers wanted to shape their country with values of equality and freedom. They wanted their countries to become true democracies.
The U.S. has treated this region as its backyard for decades. One example would be the CIA coup which ousted democratically-elected President Jacobo Arbenz in Guatemala in 1954, and replaced him with the first in a series of US-backed military dictators. The CIA was protecting the interests of the US-based United Fruit Co. In the 1980s the U.S. set up Honduras as a military base for its operations in Nicaragua and El Salvador, which put power in the hands of the military that it began to use against its own people. For years tiny El Salvador, the size of Massachusetts, was the third greatest recipient of US military aid. Elite Salvadoran battalions were trained in Georgia. After the war ended in 1992, the UN Truth Commission found that the US-backed Salvadoran army and its associated death squads were responsible for 90% of wartime atrocities.
Our national culture leans toward forgetting the past and moving on, but reality doesn't work that way. Guatemala, Honduras and El Salvador (among other countries) were set up by Spain to exploit for cheap goods and labor, and in more recent decades when the poor majorities have risked their lives to rebalance the scales, the US has often pressed its heavy thumb on the side of the wealthy minority who are allied with US business interests.
Now President Trump has found a new way to use poor people in Mexico and Central America: as scapegoats. Without a scrap of evidence, he blames their presence in the US for widespread crime and global economic shifts. So now this region is no longer "our backyard." It's a distant land that we want nothing to do with; we'll build a wall to keep these people out. With the history of US involvement in the region as a background, and Trump's use of scapegoating in the foreground, this is a bleak picture of unfairness.
Thanks for reading this. Please feel free to disagree.
Please join me at the selectman's meeting, if you feel so moved. You can also contact your state legislators to ask them to support the Massachusetts Safe Communities Act (SD.1596 and HD.3052). You can thank Rep. Sean Garballey, who is a cosponsor.
Included in the statement were these links:
Arlington Stands with Immigrants asks you to:
-- Call Gov. Charlie Baker at 617-725-4005. Demand that he rescind his June 2016 directive to state law enforcement to support ICE in its immigration enforcement.
The following letters to the Board of Selectmen express support for the proposal to make Arlington a sanctuary town or "Trust Act" community. They are included in documents in the board's Feb. 27 agenda and thus are public records. The body of each letter is published as written:
Elisabeth W. Taylor, Feb. 2
I am writing as a resident of Precinct 21 to register my support for Arlington becoming a "Sanctuary City." I also plan to attend the February 27th meeting to voice my support.
Danielle Descoteaux, Jan. 26
I was delighted to hear that the Board of Selectmen have voted to propose that Arlington be a sanctuary city.
I will be at the town spring meeting to voice my full-throated support of this. We need courageous lawmakers to stand up for the least among us and I'm proud to live in a town that can stand up for what's right.
So please pass along my thanks and looking forward to the spring meeting when I hope the act is passed.
James Cooney, Jan. 25
Hello. I'm a resident of Arlington ..., and I wanted to take a moment today to encourage the Board of Selectman to continue discussing and pursuing policies toward making Arlington a sanctuary town, and to oppose and resist President Trump's recent executive order to cut funding from sanctuary cities.
I was sorry to have missed the meeting last week where the warrant article was discussed, but I do hope to participate in any future public assemblies that address this critical issue.
Elizabeth Singer, Jan. 25
I would like to express my support for the proposal to include in the Town Meeting Warrant making Arlington a sanctuary town for refugees. Let us stand in solidarity with the city of Boston, and several other communities in Massachusetts.
Cindy Gallagher, Jan. 28
A handwritten note to Selectman Dan Dunn expressed support, but its text could not be scanned.
Addressed to Selectman Diane Mahon and expressing support for the resolution, the card included a name that was not legible.
This viewpoint was published Thursday, Feb. 23, 2017, and updated Feb. 27, to add comments to selectmen.
DO YOU AGREE, DISAGREE? Comment below. You must include your full name as well as your connection to Arlington, Mass.