Amherst board proclaims support for human rights

By SCOTT MERZBACH

Staff Writer

Published: 12-06-2016 10:30 PM

AMHERST — Following on the heels of the presidents of four area colleges expressing support for immigrant students, the Select Board has issued a proclamation in advance of Saturday’s Human Rights Day reminding the community that Amherst is a safe place for immigrants to live, work and study.

Promoting respect toward people across the world, including undocumented immigrants in Amherst, is at the heart of this year’s proclamation for Human Rights Day, which the board adopted unanimously Monday.

The proclamation excerpts the language of a 2012 Town Meeting vote ensuring that Amherst would not participate in the Secure Communities Act, or S-Comm, a federal immigration enforcement program that Town Meeting stated “explicitly promotes discrimination on the basis of nation of origin and implicitly promotes discrimination on the basis of race, color and socioeconomic status.”

“The town of Amherst hereby affirms its support of their work in our community, and we support the immigrants and refugees” who call Amherst home, the proclamation reads.

Human Rights Commission Chairman Matthew Charity said the proclamation shows a refocusing and commitment to those who live in Amherst, following the presidential election and renewed fears about extremist movements and the direction of the country.

An issue raised by the election, Charity said, is students attending colleges who have lived in the United States for many years but may not be documented.

“We’re hoping the town of Amherst can recognize the fear some people have, but also reaffirm the faith a lot of people have in human rights, the sense of community and being together,” Charity said.

Select Board Chairwoman Alisa Brewer said she appreciated that the proclamation is responsive to concerns elected officials are also hearing in the community.

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The proclamation is also a call for action. “We ask our teachers, our administrators and staff, our town boards and committees, our business community and our residents to set the example, to step forward and defend the rights of ... anyone ... at risk of discrimination or violence.”

The main event on Human Rights Day, as usual, will be the gathering on the Town Common at 4 p.m. Saturday when the U.N. Declaration of Human Rights, adopted by the U.N. General Assembly in 1948, will be read aloud.

Deborah Radway, director of human resources and human rights for the town, said this is “a quite moving event” that will include participation by members of the Select Board and a chapter of Amnesty International.

Scott Merzbach can be reached at smerzbach@gazettenet.com.

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