Worcester Unswayed By Financial Threats In Sanctuary City Debate

Protest outside City Hall, Worcester MA, 1/25/17, courtesy of Dawn Lovejoy

By Nicholas Clark

Protest outside City Hall, Worcester MA, 1/25/17, courtesy of Dawn Lovejoy

On Jan. 25, 2017, President Donald Trump signed an executive order which threatens the withdrawal of federal funding from cities deemed “sanctuary cities.” On Jan. 31, 2017, over one thousand people gathered at Worcester’s City Hall to protest this order.

These protesters gathered to demonstrate the public’s disapproval of the president’s actions. With Worcester’s status as a sanctuary city in something of a grey area, residents of Worcester and surrounding towns came together to denounce the executive order and reinforce their desire to officially label Worcester a sanctuary city.

Being a sanctuary city would mean that Worcester’s municipal funds cannot be used to enforce federal immigration laws – leaving it up to federal government agencies to do their job. Usually self-proclaimed, these sanctuary cities supply immigrants who find themselves in a state of legal-limbo with a place for salvation and hope. With President Trump’s executive order in place, many sanctuary cities across the country took a brave stand against the head of the executive branch.

While protesters braved the frigid temperatures on the January afternoon, city councilors inside City Hall debated Worcester’s position on the enforcement of federal immigration law. Councilor at-large Michael Gaffney had proposed a resolution to clarify Worcester’s position on the issue – taking a critical stance against the title of “sanctuary city” and the disregard of enforcing federal law. However, mayor Joseph Petty along with eight other city council members voted to defeat Gaffney’s ill-received proposal.

So with a vote of nine to two, Worcester’s policy on immigration remains as it has been for years: one that manifests tolerance and hospitality towards immigrants. Along with the Massachusetts State Police, Worcester City Police do not question citizens about immigration status except in rare instances where major felonies are involved. Worcester’s residents demonstrated that they are proud to share the label of a place of sanctuary with cities across the nations as well the state of Massachusetts.

Massachusetts’s cities proudly establishing themselves as sanctuary cities include Somerville, Northampton, Holyoke, Chelsea, and the home of the highest ranked universities in the world, Cambridge. Boston has taken the same position. In Worcester, no municipal funds are allocated towards enforcing federal immigration laws but no formal designation of “sanctuary city” has been made.

With many of these cities having been sanctuary cities for well over twenty years, they promise to not waver with the president’s new order. By adhering to the principles of tolerance and security for immigrants with questionable legal status, these cities now risk losing their annual federal funding. Worcester receives around fifty-nine million dollars annually from the federal government, but that could all soon change.

Retracting federal funding in the tens of millions from cities all across the country due to their open-arms policy towards immigration and refusal to spend municipal funds to enforce federal law is more than alarming. The United States is a nation forged by the toil of men and women who emigrated from all nations of the world to come together and achieve a prosperous life.

The ‘American Dream’ has begun to look like a nightmare to many, as immigrants fear being persecuted by not only federal officials but now local authorities too. The Statue of Liberty’s poem declares that all tired, young, and poor masses yearning to breathe free are welcomed to enter the golden doors of the United States. Those tired, young, and poor masses who were once welcomed to all areas of the nation are now finding themselves in a nation torn between beliefs.

The residents of Worcester and surrounding areas have made their statement, using their democratic voice to denounce the president’s controversial order. The risk of losing federal funding may pale in comparison to the reward of offering sanctuary to those coming to the United States in hope of salvation. Worcester has made its statement and will bear the brunt of any financial burden that the Trump administration might impose.

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