Editorial: Mobilizing to aid immigrants

Published: 12-29-2016 12:17 PM

People in the Valley already are mobilizing to support immigrants who face an uncertain future after Donald Trump becomes president in January.

Particularly at risk are undocumented immigrants. Trump has promised to deport between two and three million who entered the country illegally and have criminal records, and then “male a determination” about non-criminal violators of immigration law.

Lawyer Lauren Burke hopes to make a national impact by launching “Immigration Nation” on Jan. 21, the day after Trump is inaugurated. Burke grew up in Amherst and graduated from Amherst Regional High School in 2002. In 2012 she founded Atlas: Developing Immigrant Youth in New York City, which provides access to legal services, education and leadership development.

Burke plans to spend six months traveling across the country to help 50 families in as many of the 50 states as possible, with seminars in churches and schools. “I’m really excited about the number of people since the election who realize undocumented immigrants are part of society and want to help,” Burke said.

She has maintained ties with her hometown. Last Thursday, Burke led a session attended by 75 people at the Munson Memorial Library about further steps the town can take in aiding immigrants. “We are looking at a scary, scary future,” Burke said. “We’re talking about heightened raids, deportation and, of course, the Muslim registry.”

Amherst and Northampton already are sanctuary cities, which, among other things, means they limit cooperation with U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement. Trump has threatened to slash federal aid from those sanctuary cities which he asserts obstruct the enforcement of immigration laws.

In Northampton that would amount to $3.2 million, which is about 3 percent of the city’s budget and pays for services such as home repairs for elderly people and other residents who cannot afford them. “Mostly it’s funding that’s directed at the most vulnerable populations in our community, said Narkewicz, who vows that the threat to withhold federal aid will not change Northampton’s status as a sanctuary city.

“I have no intention to reverse the city’s policy at this point,” the mayor told about 200 people who attended a forum earlier this month at the Academy of Music to examine the potential impact of Trump’s immigration policies. “And we’re going to push back if there are efforts” to end federal aid.

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Easthampton also is considering becoming a sanctuary city, with mixed reactions voiced by some of the 70 people who attended a discussion this month at the Eastworks building sponsored by the American Friends Service Committee of Western Massachusetts.

City Councilor Jennifer Hayes proposed the measure, and the council’s ordinance subcommittee will consider the proposal Jan. 11.

Local religious leaders are joining their counterparts nationwide in considering the role that houses of worship might play, whether it’s spiritual support, legal assistance or actually housing immigrants.

In Northampton, two ministers and a rabbi interviewed earlier this month said they are open to providing some sort of sanctuary support, pending discussions with their worship communities.

The Rev. Todd Weir at First Churches of Northampton, 129 Main St., said he expects his congregation to consider how it might provide legal and housing assistance. “Frankly, we’re all kind of stunned we’re at this place,” Weir said. “The church is a place where people should feel safe and protected. We have to figure out how to make that real for people.”

And Rabbi Justin David at Congregation B’nai Israel, 253 Prospect St., said, “I know that in the Jewish world there are a number of synagogues who are exploring what it means to be a sanctuary for undocumented immigrants. I very much want our community to get on board.”

College and university students also are playing a role as part of the #SanctuaryCampus movement. The presidents of Amherst, Hampshire, Mount Holyoke and Smith colleges all signed a letter calling on Trump to keep in place protections for undocumented immigrants adopted by the Obama administration, including the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program.

The University of Massachusetts is considering policies including an emergency “angel fund” to help pay legal fees, tuition or relocation costs for students facing immigration issues.

While millions of immigrants in the United States are not sure what challenges they will face in 2017, at least those in the Valley know that many in the community already are stepping forward with support.