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Cambridge Holds to Sanctuary City Ideals as DOJ Pushes to Hold Funds

Cambridge City Hall.
Cambridge City Hall. By Jessica C. Salley
By Alison W. Steinbach, Crimson Staff Writer

United States Attorney General Jeff B. Sessions announced Monday that cities—including Cambridge—that call themselves “sanctuaries” for undocumented immigrants will lose funding from the Department of Justice, prompting outcry from Cambridge city officials.

Despite pressure from the federal government, Cambridge has maintained its label as a “sanctuary city,” meaning it permits undocumented residents to live in the city and avoid deportation. Sessions said Monday that sanctuary policies “make their cities and states less safe” and “put them at risk of losing federal dollars.”

The DOJ grants currently provide $4.1 billion nationwide for law enforcement programs, and Cambridge would be withheld from such grants.

Cambridge Mayor E. Denise Simmons released a statement Monday denouncing Sessions’s announcement. She and a number of other city officials previously spoke out in defense of sanctuary cities after President Donald Trump’s initial Jan. 25 order to withhold funding, and her Monday statement was similarly harsh.

“That does not make it any less irresponsible or disgraceful that the federal government would continue to push for punitive and heartless actions like this one,” Simmons wrote. “The President and Attorney General are not going to make this country safer by withholding funds for critical services like affordable housing programs and Meals on Wheels; instead, they will be hurting the most vulnerable among us.”

City Councillor Nadeem A. Mazen also criticized the new administration’s plans to force cities to fulfill federal officials’ immigration actions on their behalf.

“An attempt to do so is brazenly unconstitutional, which is very much in keeping with Trump’s strategy,” Mazen said. “Grasp for something that is undermining American values, fly in the face of the Constitution hoping you’ll get away with something, and subvert American values in order to terrorize and attack those who are otherwise peaceful, law-abiding, and great beacons of support and diversity in our communities.”

City Councillor Jan Devereux said Cambridge will continue to resist Trump’s new policy.

“Cambridge won't be bullied into changing our commitment to protecting the human and civil rights of all our residents regardless of their immigration status,” Devereux wrote in an emailed statement. “We believe the way to create a safer community for all residents is by building trust, not building walls.”

Some sanctuary cities have fought the federal policies in court, and Mazen said he suspects Cambridge or Massachusetts could join such suits. But for now, Cambridge continues to observe the legal battles, recognizing that civil society organizations and larger cities and states are taking action, according to Mazen.

“I think that Cambridge will continue to do its utmost to participate when and if we are needed to lead,” he said. “I think in this case there are many other cities leading and we are in a position of planning, observing, and collaborating, and will continue to do so.”

–Staff writer Alison W. Steinbach can be reached at Follow her on Twitter @alisteinbach.

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