LAWRENCE — The "Immigrant City" of Massachusetts — Lawrence, a suburb of Boston with nearly 40 percent of its residents born overseas — has agreed to join about 300 U.S. cities that limit cooperation with federal immigration authorities seeking illegal immigrants.
In a 7-2 city council vote that was largely along ethnic lines, the city voted to pass the measure to make Lawrence a "sanctuary city," and also voted in favor of a non-binding resolution calling on the state legislature to allow illegal immigrants to obtain drivers licenses.
In addition to San Francisco, numerous cities around the U.S. – including Los Angeles, New York City, Chicago, Seattle, Dallas, and Portland, Oregon – are considered sanctuary cities. While the term has no true legal meaning, it refers generally to cities with sanctuary policies and emerged in the 1980s as a response to a massive wave of immigrants to the U.S. who were fleeing civil wars and feared deportation back to their war-torn homelands.
The map below shows the more than 200 cities, counties, and states across the United States that are considered "sanctuaries" for those in the country illegally, according to data compiled by the nonprofit Center for Immigration Studies. This map is based on data from Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) identifying the agencies that limit their cooperation with federal immigration detainers.
A vote along ethnic lines
All of six Latino councilors supported both measures, joined by Eileen Bernal, who is not Latino. Roger Twomey and Marc Laplante, who also are not Latino, opposed both measures. The votes occurred before an overflow crowd of about 250 people, the most to attend a council meeting in at least five years and a measure of how immigration is stirring passions locally and nationwide.
Several of those who opposed the bill limiting the city’s cooperation with the federal Immigration and Customs Enforcement agency said it would make Lawrence a haven for criminals.
“They’re not going to commit crimes in their own cities — they’ll come to Lawrence to do it,” Marilyn Mercier, who wore an American flag scarf, told the council.
City Council President Modesto Maldonado and Councilor Kendrys Vasquez, the bill’s principal sponsors, are calling the legislation the “Lawrence Trust Policy” because its intent is to ease the distrust between police and the city’s immigrants.
“The city of Lawrence will equally enforce the law and serve the public without consideration of immigration status,” the bill says. “Citizenship, immigration status, lack of immigration documentation, national origin, race and ethnicity shall have no bearing on an individual’s treatment by Lawrence law enforcement personnel or on decisions to initiate stops, make arrests or extend the length of custody.”
Many of those who supported the measure spoke emotionally about how illegal immigrants who are victims of crimes, including women abused by their partners, often won’t seek help from police because of their fear that they will be asked for their immigration documents. A few speakers acknowledged that they are in the U.S. Illegally, but said that’s their only crime.
Today, 28,900 of Lawrence’s 76,800 residents were born overseas, including 15,509 who are not U.S. citizens, according to the U.S. Census. Data on how many of the 15,509 are here illegally is not available because the U.S. Census does not track those numbers.
“We can’t ignore what happened in San Francisco, what happened in downtown Lawrence on July 4,” Councilor Marc Laplante said, referring to murders where illegal immigrants are suspected. “We can’t ignore the presidential campaign. This is a hot-button issue that’s really galvanized a lot of people."
Both bills now go to Lawrence's mayor, Daniel Rivera for a signature or a veto. Rivera has not said whether he would veto the bill, but the council’s 7-2 vote, if it holds, would be enough to override a veto.