Beacon Council adopts resolution but avoids word
By Jeff Simms
The Beacon City Council on April 3 adopted a resolution declaring the city a safe and welcoming place where all residents should feel comfortable interacting with police and other municipal officials.
The resolution notably does not use the phrase “sanctuary city,” which has been derided by the administration of President Donald Trump, instead affirming that Beacon will be “welcoming, safe and inclusive” to all residents, whether in the country legally or not.
The council adopted the resolution unanimously, capping off several weeks of intense debate. Opponents have warned that criminals will be drawn to Beacon to bypass federal immigration laws, while supporters insisted the move would protect vulnerable residents who fear deportation.
The resolution was drafted principally by council member Lee Kyriacou and follows guidelines issued earlier this year by state Attorney General Eric Schneiderman.
It says that city employees and officials will not “stop, question, interrogate, investigate or arrest an individual based solely on actual or suspected immigration or citizenship status” or “inquire about the immigration status of an individual, including a crime victim, a witness, or a person who calls or approaches the police seeking assistance, unless necessary to investigate criminal activity by that individual.”
While Police Chief Doug Solomon said weeks ago that immigration is rarely within the jurisdiction of local law enforcement, the movement to clarify municipal policies has grown nationwide as the federal government has threatened to crack down on undocumented immigrants.
Last month, U.S. Attorney General Jeff Sessions announced that the Justice Department will stop awarding grants to cities or local police departments that fail to comply with federal immigration enforcement. However, Beacon City Attorney Ed Phillips said he was confident that “the way the resolution reads, we are in a very safe place in terms of federal funding and complying with federal law.”
The U.S. Department of Justice provides about $30,000 to the city annually, although the city has applied for a DOJ grant of $125,000.
Sessions’ requirement focuses mainly on Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) requests for local police to detain undocumented individuals charged or convicted of serious crimes.
The Beacon resolution respects the federal mandate because it stipulates that city employees and officials only comply with such requests when they are accompanied by a judicial warrant, or the police chief has determined there is probable cause to believe that the individual has illegally re-entered the country after a previous removal and has been convicted of a serious felony or engaged in terrorist activity.
The resolution also compels the police chief to report any request for immigration enforcement to the mayor and City Council.
Kyriacou said the passage of the resolution provides “clearer guidance” for the city by “formalizing a policy that has generally been the practice, and communicating that policy.”
The debate grew rancorous on April 3 as council members heard public comment for more than an hour before their vote. With the audience spilling into the lobby of the city courtroom, the differences of opinion were stark.
“We’re dealing with criminals,” said Beacon resident Michael DiPompo. “I’ve heard allusions to racism if you oppose this, and I’m so insulted by that. These are criminals. We’re bringing people in who kill us. Are you kidding me?”
Moments later, Tina Bernstein chided the council as it debated the title of the resolution.
“I am extremely disappointed that this body is so afraid to use language that clearly states that we have the back of members of our community who are concerned about how the political climate will affect them as undocumented immigrants,” she said. “No one is talking about opening up the floodgates to criminals. We live in a time of suspicion and I wish people were not so afraid of what might happen if we take a stand.”
Several others read statements from children of immigrants in Beacon who said they fear losing their parents.