New Hampshire struggles with sanctuary cities

Two cities stop short of becoming haven for undocumented migrants to avoid losing federal funds after Trump’s order.

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Manchester, New Hampshire, United States – Portsmouth will introduce a “welcoming and diversity” resolution in lieu of declaring itself a sanctuary city on Monday, ending a months-long debate on the designation under pressure from the US administration, and leaving New Hampshire without a sanctuary city.

“Portsmouth citizens have been talking about this issue for the past month or so. To delegate ourselves as a sanctuary city would put federal funds at risk. It doesn’t accomplish anything,” Assistant Mayor Jim Splaine, a public official known locally for his celebration of diversity, told Al Jazeera.

President Donald Trump signed an executive order in January promising to withhold federal funds from any such jurisdictions.

While there is no official designation, sanctuary cities generally offer safety to undocumented migrants and often do not use municipal funds or resources to advance the enforcement of federal immigration laws, neither do they cooperate with the Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) agency that conducts arrests and deportations.

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“It’s important for us to make a declaration of acceptance of diversity” Splaine continued, “but becoming a sanctuary city has never been on [the city council’s] agenda. It’s something that residents have been debating.”

Residents of Portsmouth and nearby Durham, two university cities with progressive reputations and diverse populations, had considered putting forth resolutions declaring themselves sanctuary cities after the inauguration of Trump. 

Both have declined to do so, instead favouring the “welcoming” resolutions.

“We could lose about $5.5m, and it wouldn’t really accomplish anything. The federal government can do whatever it wants,” Splaine said.  

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Eva Castillo, director of the New Hampshire Alliance for Immigrants and Refugees, told Al Jazeera on Monday that she “wasn’t holding [her] breath” for Portsmouth, or any other city in New Hampshire, to become a sanctuary city.

New Hampshire has a relatively small Latino population. According to the Pew Research Center’s Hispanic Trends site, they comprised 3 percent of the state’s populace in 2014.

However, the immigrant population is growing both in size and economic power, according to a study by the American Immigration Council, an immigrant advocate group. Currently, 1 in 18 New Hampshire residents is either Latino or Asian. 

Castillo said the small number of her community does not inspire city leaders, even with the best intentions, to take great fiscal risks.

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However, she was encouraged by the stance of those in New Hampshire such as Andrew Lavoie, police chief of Nashua, the second-largest city in the state.

Lavoie said his department will not do checks on immigration status.

“We aren’t going to walk up to a person and ask for their immigration status. What gives you the right to do that? That’s certainly wrong,” Lavoie told Al Jazeera in an interview.

But the chief said that Nashua certainly does not want to be a sanctuary city: “If ICE asks us for assistance in serving an arrest warrant, absolutely we’d honour it. We’re sworn to uphold any warrant signed by a judge,” Lavoie concluded.

When asked about the importance of sanctuary city status, which typically means law enforcement will not execute ICE warrants, Castillo finished by saying a “sanctuary city is more of a statement than anything. Right now, we’re working with the churches to set up sanctuary spaces to give refuge to those in need.”

Churches have become a central focus in the debate on sanctuary cities.

In Austin, Texas, a flashpoint in this issue, St Andrew’s Presbyterian Church has taken the step of housing at-risk undocumented immigrants.

ICE policy typically stops the agency from apprehending the undocumented when housed in sensitive areas such as churches and schools.

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The Reverend Babs Miller, of St Andrews, told Al Jazeera over the phone that the decisions of Portsmouth and Durham to reject sanctuary city status was disheartening, but understandable.

“Using financial pressure is a good way to get people to do things your way,” Miller said.

As the Trump administration enters its second month, Miller commented that churches and law enforcement across the country have felt economic pressure on both the state and federal levels.

“I hope that folks continue to stand firm. We’ve been speaking to churches and communities about supporting each other, raising money for law enforcement that might be losing funding, and thinking outside the box to keep people safe,” the reverend concluded.

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Source: Al Jazeera