Durham, Portsmouth consider becoming sanctuary citiesBy KEVIN LANDRIGAN
New Hampshire Union Leader
February 04. 2017 5:55PM
DURHAM — Starting Monday, Durham and Portsmouth begin to formally explore a sanctuary-city designation that would put them in the crosshairs of President Donald Trump.
In a Jan. 27 executive order, Trump pledged to strip sanctuary cities of all federal grants if they persist in pursuing conscientious objector status in the fight against illegal immigration.
A sanctuary city is a municipality that adopts a policy of protecting illegal immigrants by not prosecuting them or reporting them for violating federal immigration laws. This can be set out in law or observed in practice by not using local money to enforce federal immigration law.
There are more than 300 sanctuary communities in the U.S. though 12 of them, including Providence, R.I., account for nearly 20 percent of all undocumented aliens, according to the Center for Migration Studies.
New Hampshire is alone in New England for not having a sanctuary city. In the past 10 days, local officials in both communities report a raft of calls, emails and letters from residents and outsiders urging them to take this course of action.
“It’s the most holy place of honor for a community to have in the fight for social justice,” said Eva Castillo, executive director of the New Hampshire Alliance for Immigrants and Refugees.
At first glance, these would seem to be perfect beachheads in the Granite State to wage such a campaign.
Only 27 percent of Durham voters went for Trump in last November’s election; Trump’s backing in Portsmouth was 29 percent.
While willing to take a look, progressive officials in both communities admit they are reluctant to join the front lines of this fight, and they insist Durham and Portsmouth already are model welcoming places for all immigrants.
“In my view, Durham operates in nearly all respects in a manner in which supporters would want a Sanctuary City to operate. Yet, by formally declaring ourselves to be one, in many ways we make ourselves into a target and politicize our ongoing and deeply held commitment to inclusivity. That seems counterproductive to me,” said Durham Town Administrator Todd Selig.
Portsmouth would put $5.5 million in federal grants at risk. James Splaine is a former, 30-year state lawmaker who is currently deputy mayor of the Seacoast city.
“How much would we lose? Are we putting that in danger? My job is to protect the interest of the city and its taxpayers,” Splaine began.
“I also see the problem that if we start to identify who is illegal and who is not, this country could become very paranoid. Neighbors would be talking about neighbors; there would be discussions on the sidewalk and the talk could get very crazy.”
Selig said his town’s police force does not profile residents and has a human rights commission.
“While it might make people feel good to have their local community declared a sanctuary city in the face of what they see as undesired federal action, the communities have to think long and hard about the implications of their actions for all their citizens, both social and financial,” Selig said.
Conservative activist Gary Hoffman of Bedford said the Legislature should follow the lead of Texas and pursue a state law against these communities.
“We need a state law to prevent any place in New Hampshire from becoming a so-called sanctuary city or town,” Hoffman said.
A 2002 Republican candidate for Congress, Hoffman said the illegal immigrants come from countries that spawn terrorists, and Trump should have expanded his ban to include Saudia Arabia and the United Arab Emirates.
At a rally against Trump’s immigration travel ban in Concord, residents were thankful the concept was getting attention.
Imam Mustafa Akaya of the Islamic Society of Greater Concord said vocal opposition is the only way to combat Trump’s policies.
“We have a lot of people supporting us,” he said. “Talk with your heart, your head and your mouth. You can send them a message.”
Intisar Alqatrani of Concord emigrated with her husband from Iraq 20 months ago after he worked for the U.S. Army in Iraq.
“My husband’s family is in Iraq and they would love to come here but now with this, who knows when they can ever come,” she sighed.
Randall Drew, a Bedford lawyer who specializes in immigration law, said any community taking this step now risks becoming the first casualty in a federal money fight with the White House.
“I think a stealth campaign is perhaps better,” Drew said. “Any formal recognition just makes them a target, that would be my concern.”
Immigration group leader Castillo said she’s going to a Sacramento, Calif., meeting this week with national peers to pursue a different course.
“It is up to Durham and Portsmouth to decide and I wish them well,” Castillo began
“We are advocating for the churches to declare sanctuary status all over the country; we think that is the better way to go. This would make it very difficult for the administration to retaliate against them.”
The Durham Town Council’s meeting Monday at Town Hall. The Portsmouth City Council will meet Monday in the Eileen Dondero Foley Chambers in Portsmouth City Hall. Both sessions start at 7 p.m.