2017-03-09 / News

Town OK’s sanctuary resolution


“Regardless what you think of the president, he has inspired a level of civic engagement that we have not seen in a while.” — Mary Meagher, town councilor “Regardless what you think of the president, he has inspired a level of civic engagement that we have not seen in a while.” — Mary Meagher, town councilor The town councilors have approved a passionately worded resolution supporting a proposed bill that essentially would establish Rhode Island as a sanctuary state.

The resolution, drafted by Councilwoman Mary Meagher, drew debate from both sides of the aisle at the March 6 meeting, including concerns from Police Chief Ed Mello. Ultimately, the decree passed 4-0 with Councilman Blake Dickinson abstaining. Along with support for House bill 5515, the resolution condemns three pieces of state legislation bills backing President Donald Trump’s deportation order.

“I love this,” Vice President Mike White said. “There isn’t anything wrong with the town of Jamestown saying we believe all human begins should be treated with respect.”

Meagher’s draft references Roger Williams, the Puritan who fled Massachusetts Bay Colony in 1636 for fear of being deported as a religious radical. Williams eventually purchased land from Narragansett sachem Canonicus and founded the state of Rhode Island.

“Jamestown has a tradition of promoting tolerance, hospitality and fellowship in its secular, religious and governmental institutions, welcoming people of all religions, races and ethnicities to live here, work here or simply visit and enjoy our parks, beaches and the bounty that Narragansett Bay provides,” the resolution says.

The document, which Meagher suggested sending to other Rhode Island cities and towns for support, urges the state legislature to pass the proposed bill that would protect immigration detainees.

“I think this was admirably written,” Councilman Gene Mihaly said. “It addressed a thorny question in a civilized way.”

Baldwin Court resident Mark Baker first introduced the sanctuary notion to the councilors during their Feb. 6 meeting. Baker called for a town ordinance, but no action was taken.

If passed, House bill 5515 would separate Rhode Island from the U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement, the federal agency tasked with deporting illegal aliens. State authorities and municipal police officers no longer would be able to arrest people solely for their immigration status. It also would ban authorities from sharing information of prisoners with immigration detainers.

Mello, however, said that was troubling. “It prohibits law enforcement from cooperating,” he said. “We can’t look at this in a vacuum.”

Currently, when a defendant is taken into custody, police check to see if there are any warrants or detainers. If there were a detainer, Mello would notify U.S. immigration officials and disclose the name, charge and release date. After that, he said, it’s in the hands of federal officials.

The proposed law, however, means police would not be able to report that offender. That’s problematic, Mello said, because detainers typically are issued for serious offenders, not for immigration reasons.

“By and large, detainers are addressing people who are committing crimes in this country,” he said. “They’re committing crimes while they’re here.”

While the legislation wasn’t perfect, Meagher allowed, the purpose of the resolution wasn’t about enforcement methods. Mihaly agreed.

“This is essentially a statement of values,” he said. “It is not a document that will change behavior.”

The bills rebuked in the Meagher resolution would establish an online verification system to target undocumented workers and would require court sheriffs to check the immigration status of every incarcerated prisoner and report illegal aliens to U.S. immigration.

“Regardless what you think of the president, he has inspired a level of civic engagement that we have not seen in a while,” Meagher said. “We need to make our needs, our hopes and our thoughts known.”

Dickinson reiterated his position that immigration is a federal matter that should not be dealt with on a municipal level. Beavertail Road resident Dick Trask disagreed with the lone Republican councilor.

“We live in a very strange time,” he said. “For the first time in my life, basic principals are being challenged. We can’t stay silent.”

Return to top