Sanctuary Town status discussed at Acton Board of Selectmen meeting

I attended the "surprise" BOS meeting which had the issue of Acton becoming a "sanctuary town" on the agenda, although if you had just read the agenda, you would have had no idea this was the actual topic for discussion. The issue was instead framed about making Acton a "safe community." Yeah, right. Safer for law-breakers, maybe, but not necessarily safer for law-abiders.

These Orwellian descriptions (used by both political parties) are getting quite annoying. We don't want to "offend" people so we come up with calling black, white and up, down.

The common Orwellian phrase used in this discussion is "undocumented immigrant." But the problem with such misleading language is that people are easily confused that those who favor enforcing the law are against "immigrants" or "immigration," and that isn't (usually) true.

There were several speakers who made this mistake, whether intentionally or unintentionally I don't know. The very first speaker, who said he was part of a new group that was likely to bring this issue to Acton Town Meeting as a warrant article, seemed to make the mistake immediately. He quoted from Acton's Master Plan which definitely did not address "illegal immigrants" at all. But it does call for Acton to be a diverse and welcoming community. The speaker implied that to do so, we had to protect (or should want to protect) illegal behavior. As another speaker later pointed out, that is not the type of diversity that was meant or that we want.

Anyway, the meeting was orderly and very informative. If this is an issue that you care about, I would recommend watching the discussion and public comments on, under the Board of Selectmen's meeting for February 6. The topic covers about the first three hours.

So the important thing I learned is that Acton's police force currently operates under the same guidelines as Cambridge's, which is a sanctuary city. So right now, if we take no action, all of the current stated goals of the sanctuary city supporters will continue to be realized.

This means there is absolutely no urgency to this issue, so at the very least, we should slow down, take a deep breath, and thoughtfully and informatively research and discuss this before passing any changes to local law. And the very first thing we should wait for is to see if federal or state laws change or are clarified before we take any official action, as this can have enormous bearing on what we do or should do. Despite the urging of State Senator Jamie Eldridge, this is not primarily a local issue and his involvement in putting this on our BOS' agenda is meddling in the worst sense.

So despite there being zero enforcement issues in Acton and nobody, not even the proponents, claiming that the proclamation would actually change police behavior, several speakers still supported having the town take action.

The idea that we would "proclaim" ourselves a "safe community" for illegal immigrants even if there is no change to the operating instructions of the police appears to be based on two premises. First, the federal government may start pressuring local police forces to change their policies, so if we crystallize our current policy which is working fine, we won't be blindsided by some subtle change that no one sees coming or hears about until it is too late.

I find this argument unconvincing. We have a new police chief. The Selectmen can tell him that if he is contemplating any changes to the enforcement of national immigration law, they would like to know in advance. And then we can have a debate prior to anything changing and discuss the real implications (penalties for harboring illegal immigrants, loss of federal funding, mass deportations, etc.) at the time. Having that discussion now, when there is no problem, is creating a problem, not solving one.

The second reason is to proactively welcome illegal immigrants because we are a welcoming community. We already (obviously) welcome legal immigrants, so this would go a big step further in telling "the world" that Acton welcomes all people, even those that have broken the law and continue to break the law by not being in the country legally.

The potential for unintended consequences is enormous. Do we want Acton to act as a magnet for illegal immigrants? Do we want to provide more and more services to them? (In theory, they can't work legally in this country, so using public services is almost a given for many of them.) And what are the possible ramifications by the federal government which apparently is going to coerce states into falling in line?

If Acton were to proclaim itself a safe harbor, would the town face any liability for encouraging people to come or stay here illegally? Would the town then be responsible for any criminal acts committed by these "guests?" These are unknowns that must be answered before the town places itself at financial risk.

Let me digress by relating a story that was told by a sanctuary town supporter at the meeting. She spoke of hiring a company that employed illegal immigrants as home-health aides. When the two workers got into a dispute with their employer, they were threatened by the boss with being reported to the Immigration authorities and were scared. The speaker obviously liked and wanted to support these workers who were doing a great job and were hard workers. So there is no question that people who are here and working illegally face the potential of being exploited. But I conclude from this that we should try to minimize and eliminate this potential for exploitation and fear by cleaning up the mess rather than accepting the illegal behavior which is the underlying problem.

Perhaps the U.S. should be accepting many more immigrants for all sorts of reasons. This is the purview of Congress. Jamie Eldridge should ask our Congressional delegation to file bills to expand the number of visas, and maybe we need to have an expedited process for people who are here illegally and want to stay lawfully. Discuss, debate, and reach a decision. That's how we change our laws, not by ignoring them, or providing sanctuary to those who willfully break them.

Acton is a welcoming community and we should also be a law-abiding one. We have a legal process for fixing laws which don't work. People who sneak into this country, or overstay their visa, or otherwise don't follow the process for getting a green card, should be humanely treated and supported as they are gently asked to return to their country of origin, or hire a lawyer and go to court if they wish to seek asylum if they fear persecution upon their return to their country.

As one speaker said, what makes America great and unique is that we are a "society of laws, not of men." This means that we don't let our leaders willy-nilly decide on a case-by-case basis what we should do, but we have laws that we all follow. In America, nobody is supposed to be above the law, including our leaders. Are we going to carve out a big exception for illegal immigrants?

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The term immigrant was used often and incorrectly. An immigrant is a person who is In the legal process of becoming a citizen. That's distinct from an alien here on a visa, waiver or part of another program who is not in the process of becoming a citizen, though would be here legally.

Finally we have the people who are being cloaked erroneously in the term immigrant. Those are the people here illegally, without current documentation permitting them legal residence or not here while engaged in the process of gaining citizenship. These are the illegal aliens.

One of our Selectpersons made a comment that she didn't realize until reading the law that illegal aliens (not the term she used) weren't actually committing a crime. They committed a crime as soon as they found themselves on US territory without authorization. They are indeed committing a crime. Otherwise, the logic of the selectperson implies that a burglar, once forcing their way into someone else's home, may sit there eating the food and be considered free of committing a crime once found. It is an absurd misstatement.

Excellent point

An excellent point.

It reminds me of how they call them "workers" when obviously some work and some don't. And how Jamie Eldridge called them "taxpayers" because if you pay $1 in tax, but get $50,000 in free benefits, you are still a "taxpayer" in the Jamie Eldridge world of Liberal math. Or if one percent of the illegal aliens pay taxes and 99% do not, they can still be called "taxpayers."

I also love their word "undocumented" instead of "illegal." Why don't they just go all the way and call them "benign pre-citizens?"


Allen Nitschelm has lived in Acton since 1998 and writes about fiscal issues at the
local and state level. He is a former member of the town's Finance Committee
and is an Associate Publisher of Acton Forum.