Cambridge Offers Sanctuary

City Council welcomes undocumented immigrants, rebuffing US House bill

Cambridge reaffirmed its status as a “sanctuary city” for undocumented immigrants Monday, resolving to protect residents from deportation by the federal government or discrimination because of immigration status.

Nearly 50 immigrants and advocates came to City Hall to express support for the resolution, which City Councillors passed unanimously in a roll-call vote.

The resolution was proposed in response to HR-4437, a bill sponsored by Rep. F. James Sensenbrenner Jr., R-Wisc., and passed by the House of in December.

Under the Sensenbrenner bill, anyone who helps an undocumented immigrant remain in the U.S.—“knowing or in reckless disregard of the fact that such person is an alien”—could face up to 20 years in prison.

The bill would also increase the number of patrols and canine detection teams at the country’s borders.

The Cambridge resolution charges that this bill contains “counterproductive, misguided measures, including...erosion of cherished legal traditions such as due process.”

Nor does the resolution offer support for a guest worker program, such as that proposed by President Bush. It says that this “would create a second-class citizenry without basic rights that would be disenfranchised and would be vulnerable to exploitation by unscrupulous employers.”

Gabriel Camacho, a regional organizer for the American Friends Service Committee in Cambridge, said Monday that the Sensenbrenner bill contains “proposals that mirror the language of the 1850s Fugitive Slave Act” which made it a crime to harbor or support a runaway slave.

The city first declared itself a “sanctuary city” on April 8, 1985, when large numbers of refugees fleeing the war in El Salvador arrived in Cambridge and were denied political asylum and threatened with deportation.

“Those people came really fearing they would die if they went back,” said Alice Wolf, a state representative and former Cambridge mayor, who sponsored the original sanctuary city resolution.

While they acknowledged that most undocumented immigrants are now economic migrants, many speakers at Monday’s meeting blamed hypocritical policies of the American government for the immigration problem.

Councillor Craig Kelley reminded the council that the symbolic value of the sanctuary city resolution will be irrelevant if affordable housing and strong public services are not available in Cambridge.

Cambridge resident Robert LaTrémouille was more critical about the validity of the resolution, which was discussed for nearly two hours.

In an interview yesterday, he said the council should not concern itself with symbolic resolutions about national politics.

“It’s a smokescreen, so people will not see the really terrible things they do on their own turf,” he said. “We need to understand that the things we control are the things we pay for.”

This is not Cambridge’s first gesture of civil disobedience. On June 17, 2002, the council passed a resolution declaring that Cambridge would not cooperate with the Department of Homeland Security to enforce provisions of the USA PATRIOT act which violate citizens’ civil liberties.

—Staff writer Virginia A. Fisher can be reached at vafisher@fas.harvard.edu.