2018-06-21 / News

Council leaning against sanctuary law


Three of the four councilors Monday night indicated an ordinance to protect immigrants is not the right path for the town.

“I don’t agree with codifying this,” said Mike White, vice president.

The council ultimately decided to establish a working group to consider the alternatives.

Conanicut Sanctuary, a grassroots movement created in wake of President Donald Trump’s aggressive immigration policies, presented the council with a draft ordinance. Similar to the measure approved in South Kingstown, the proposed law would “ensure community security and due process” by outlining the interaction allowed between residents and law enforcement. Under the ordinance, local police would be prohibited from stopping, questioning, interrogating, investigating or arresting people solely for their immigration status.

“We are descendants of DREAMers,” said Schooner Avenue’s Richard Hitt, referring to children brought to the country illegally. “Hear our voice for decency.”

Town Solicitor Peter Ruggiero introduced his legal opinion by saying he was “going to be the most unpopular person in the room.” He told the council adopting an ordinance that conflicts with federal law would expose the town to liability issues.

“It doesn’t matter if it is right or wrong,” he said. “That’s the law.”

Instead, Ruggiero recommended a resolution outlining the community’s values. Also, he said, the police department could adopt a standard operating procedure that describes how officers should interact with illegal immigrants.

“That wouldn’t conflict with federal law,” he said.

Following Ruggiero’s comments, several Conanicut Sanctuary members, identified by stickers on their chests that portrayed hands raised with different skin colors, offered testimony.

“Our country and our town benefit enormously from the presence of immigrants,” said Narragansett Avenue attorney John A. Murphy, whose maternal grandparents emigrated from Ireland.

He continued: “At a time when young children are begin ripped from their parents and thrown into cages, I urge you to stand with the poor immigrants. I owe it to my ancestors to stand with them.”

Murphy’s testimony was followed by a round of applause.

Despite further passionate testimony, the council decided to err on the side of caution after listening to Police Chief Ed Mello, who went through the 14 parts of the ordinance. He objected to many facets, especially the rule that prohibited his force from cooperating with federal authorities.

Mello also said his department has never kept a defendant for immigration status.

“We have not had an immigration officer interview anyone in our community,” he said. “We have not taken action on civil detainers.”

Mello also said U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement officials cannot make his department arrest anyone for immigration warrants.

“They can make us aware of it, but they can’t make us take action,” he said.

While agreeing with the values showcased by Conanciut Sanctuary, Councilor Mary Meagher disagreed with the method because of Mello’s uneasiness of the measure.

“My sense is that in striving to protect the rights of undocumented people, you are is putting our 13 police officers in a kind of jeopardy, in the middle between the laws and the policies of the federal government, and the laws of the town of Jamestown,” she said. “I can’t do that to them.”

White and Meagher agreed that something should be done, although an ordinance was not the right way. Councilman Gene Mihaly supported an ordinance, while Councilman Blake Dickinson continues to disagree with the notion of a municipal immigration policy. He voted against the working group. Kristine Trocki, council president, was not at the meeting.

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