As more area towns pass ordinances to declare that undocumented immigrants will be protected from federal efforts to deport them, the debate continues whether Watertown should join the growing list of Sanctuary Cities and Towns.
The ordinances typically declare that local police departments will not check immigration status as part of routine matters, but they will if a crime is committed. Also, illegal aliens are not protected by the Sanctuary City ordinance if they have committed a felony or violent crime.
Local supporters of Watertown becoming a Sanctuary Town held signs in Watertown Square followed by a rally at a nearby church attended by hundreds. The next week, dozens packed the Town Council Chambers to voice their opposition to the Council passing a Sanctuary City ordinance.
In early May, Arlington’s Town Meeting passed the warrant article to make it a Sanctuary town. Watertown resident Maria Saiz, who came to the United States as a political refugee, said she believes the Town Council should follow.
“Communities surrounding us have passed ordinances: Newton, Boston, even Belmont … Belmont!” Saiz said at last week’s Council meeting. “And now Arlington. Are we going to come in last?”
Caroline Bays, who helped organize the “Watertown Welcomes Immigrants” rally, said that she has heard Police Chief Michael Lawn speak about the WPD’s practice of not seeking people’s immigration status so that people are not scared to call police.
“I was at the Unity Breakfast where Chief Lawn spoke. I was thrilled with what he said,” Bays said. “It does no good if immigrants don’t know the policy.”
Sue-Ellen Hershman-Tcherepnin agreed, and said she would like to see the Watertown Police’s policy put into writing.
Not everyone at the meeting agreed that the town should take this step.
Resident Russ Arico said he fears that by becoming a Sanctuary Town, Watertown will be sending the wrong message.
“This Council does not have to make a written policy,” Arico said.
He worries that becoming a Sanctuary Town will “not discourage people who want to do bad things from coming here.”
Deborah Dugan said she felt like she was “watching American culture break down” when she saw that the Town Council did not oppose a medical marijuana facility coming to town – especially when state law has not been completely settled whether they will be able to sell it for recreational use. She added that she sees becoming a Sanctuary Town in a similar light.
“I assume you will be taking up the Sanctuary City ordinance,” Dugan said. “I myself think it would be another travesty.”
Town Councilors have said they will take up a Sanctuary Town ordinance but has not yet scheduled it for a public hearing or vote.