Solidarity and Sanctuary Cities: An Open Letter from Mayor Curtatone

Somerville Will Stand with You

Joseph A. Curtatone, Mayor of Somerville, MA

Ben Echevarria, Executive Director of The Welcome Project, Somerville, MA


In the wake of the election, our phones have been ringing off the hook. We've heard from parents who fear they will be rounded up while their young children wait for them at home. We've heard from women, Muslims, members of the LGBTQ community, and students of color fearing intensified discrimination. We've heard from people who believe equality and decency are core American values at risk. This is the heartbreaking part of the election: the sheer number of people who feel like the Trump campaign was predicated on breaking faith with one another.

Political parties win and lose. Yet this election has made people question whether our leaders desire to maintain a diverse, tolerant society. The message we jointly want to send to those whose confidence has been shaken is this: Our city-Somerville, Massachusetts-will not waver. Others, including our Governor, are also standing firm.

Somerville will stand with you regardless of your race, creed, color, sex, nationality, legal status, religion, gender identity, or sexual orientation. So if you are afraid, or if you feel targeted, don't go into isolation. Reach out. And if you want to help or speak up or share you skills to support others, reach out. We're putting together resources and support. We're doubling down on our advocacy. And we will need each of you and your voices to continue to move forward as a community.

President-Elect Trump has threatened to pull federal funding from sanctuary cities. Somerville has been a sanctuary city since 1987. And Somerville will remain a sanctuary city. We will not turn our back on our neighbors. Our diversity is our strength. Since we became a sanctuary city, our crime rate has dropped more than 50%. In fact, our crime rate for every type of violent crime is below the state and national averages. Our local unemployment rate is just 2.2 percent.

So for anyone who claims that cracking down on sanctuary cities has something to do with high crime or a stagnant economy, Somerville stands as a flashing, neon billboard for how wrong that thinking is. Data shows more of the real story. Research shows that not only do new immigrants commit fewer crimes than native-born Americans but that neighborhoods with higher immigrant populations tend to have less crime overall.

Unfortunately too many people get bad information on what a sanctuary actually is. No one who commits violent, felony, or serious crimes gets a free pass here. We do cooperate with immigration on those cases. Rather sanctuary means that our local police and agencies don't profile our residents to run immigration checks on them. One-third of Somerville's residents are documented immigrants. These are our neighbors. We will not treat them like suspects at every turn. Sanctuary means we don't hand over persons for deportation for civil offenses like driving with a broken tail light. That breaks up families and fuels a broken immigration system. Sanctuary also means that when undocumented persons are victims of or witnesses to crime, they don't have to fear deportation if they come forward. That keeps our community safer.

How much federal funding could we lose? A lot. Currently Somerville receives approximately $6 million in recurring federal funds per year for things like special education, school lunch programs, substance abuse prevention, and homeland security. That constitutes about 3% of our annual budget. Additional grants for programs such as housing are also sought each year. If we lose this funding, we will tighten our belts, but we will not sell our community values short.

Mind you, our hope is that once our new president reviews accurate information, he will not cut this funding. It would be a reckless policy. The economic engines at the heart of ten of the eleven largest metropolitan areas in the nation are sanctuary and Trust Act cities. Those ten areas are home to more than 78 million people, roughly one-quarter of our entire U.S. population. In all, there are more than 320 sanctuary cities in the United States, plus 32 counties and four states that limit local law enforcement's involvement in federal immigration enforcement. Good luck having a working economy if you pull federal funding from them all.

Yet the wave of fear washing over people extends beyond immigration issues. The Trump campaign put diversity in its crosshairs. If cities have to make a stand for basic human decency, then we're going to make that stand. We saw a presidential campaign based on fear and a desire to ostracize anyone who could be categorized as different. That may have swung an election, but it provides us with no roadmap forward. Tearing communities apart only serves to tear them down. We're going to keep bringing people together, making sure we remain a sanctuary for all. We are one community. We've got values that work. We know what makes America great.