New London residents debate so-called sanctuary city resolution

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New London — It’s not a sanctuary city resolution.

That's one of the first things City Councilor Alma Nartatez told the crowd gathered Tuesday at a New London Neighborhood Alliance meeting.

Nartatez, a liaison to the group, set out to dispel some misconceptions about a recently proposed city resolution — some continue to call it the sanctuary city resolution — that has generated controversy. It led to a fiery debate on Tuesday over whether the city is setting itself up for federal scrutiny by resolving to protect immigrants in this country illegally.

“This resolution says nothing about a sanctuary city,” Nartatez said. “It’s our job as councilors to decide if this resolution is something the city needs.”

Initially against the idea of a resolution that essentially reiterates the current police practice of not enforcing federal immigration law, Nartatez said she had since changed her position. She said she saw no harm in protecting the residents in the community who are most vulnerable, the ones whom the resolution might help to reassure.

“It’s the right thing to do,” she said.

Many in the crowd of more than 40 people who spoke on Tuesday did not agree.

“There are a lot more pressing issues facing our community,” said Dan McSparran, who also questioned how much money the city had spent helping to draft the resolution.

“So, it’s more of a political statement,” said Rob Pero, chairman of the Republican Town Committee.

Neighborhood Alliance Chairman Jay Wheeler said if the city already practices what the resolution states, “why do we need it?”

The resolution in question was first presented to the city administration by a local activist group called People Power. It was fine-tuned with input from the city attorney and police chief so that it did not stray from policy already followed by the police department, said Mayor Michael Passero, who waded into the debate at one point on Tuesday.

“No, we’re not violating federal laws,” Passero said. “It merely embodies the current practices of our police department and offers reassurances for our undocumented and immigrant population. It is simply a statement of policies we operate under.”

Passero, who has bucked calls for creation of a full-fledged sanctuary city, said the resolution might help to ease concerns of undocumented residents and allow them to report crimes or report being victims of crimes without fear of retaliation based on their immigration status. He said he backs the resolution, though it is up to the seven-member City Council to vote on it.

“I think it expresses the sentiment in our community,” Passero said.

Reid Burdick, opposed to the resolution, said, “Why do we have to reassure someone that the sun is going to come up? This is a city where everybody is welcome. We don’t need reassurances.”

The proposed resolution outlines some measures under which U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement or Customs and Border Protection agents may conduct operations in the city and to what extent city police will aid federal officials. Among other things, it dictates that police will require a judicial warrant prior to detaining an individual at the request of federal agents or arresting anyone based on an immigration detainer.

Police Chief Peter Reichard said police do not detain people simply because of their immigration status, though once a suspected criminal is entered into a national database, federal officials would become aware. He said the focus of his department is on criminals.

“We don’t do immigration enforcement,” he said.

According to the resolution, police will not allow federal agents access to a detained individual without a court order or “legitimate law enforcement purpose.” Police do not ask about a person’s immigration status or citizenship unless it relates to a crime unrelated to enforcement of immigration law. Reichard confirmed that is his department's current policy.

The resolution states that the wording is “within the framework of state and federal laws” and in line with an immigration memorandum from Gov. Dannel P. Malloy that was sent to law enforcement and school superintendents on Feb. 22, 2017, in reaction to a crackdown on illegal immigration under President Donald Trump.

It was considered first by the council’s Public Safety Committee last month and will be open for debate during an April 23 meeting at City Hall.

Nartatez said that the unfortunate and sometimes hostile backlash against the proposal actually has served to shine a negative spotlight on immigrants, something she said was “opposite of the intention” of the proposal.

City Councilor Don Venditto said he would not support the resolution with the wording as it stands now, though he appreciated the healthy debate on the subject. He said no matter what the resolution was called, it would be perceived as creating a sanctuary city and possibly jeopardize federal funding to the city.


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