South Portland steps back from sanctuary status

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SOUTH PORTLAND — The City Council on Monday debated amendments to water down a prior resolution that could label South Portland a “sanctuary city.”

The wording still concerns some residents and councilors, who believe $9.1 million in federal funding may be at risk. 

Councilors on April 24 considered amendments to their Feb. 6 resolution condemning violence and hate speech, and expressing their solidarity with Muslims and anyone targeted for their ethnicity, race or religion.

The amendments, and resolution, were sponsored by Councilor Eben Rose, but were modified to avoid risking the sanctuary city designation. City Manager Scott Morelli said the language was revised to something acceptable to the city’s legal counsel, the police chief and Rose.

But some residents at Monday’s workshop expressed concern the new language could still officially make South Portland a sanctuary city and jeopardize state and federal funds.

During the workshop, city attorney Sally Daggett and Police Chief Edward Googins also discussed policing and U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement – commonly referred to as ICE – and said the proposed amendments would not give South Portland the status of a sanctuary city.

“The amendments that were handed out tonight … are essentially a reflection of what we do now,” Googins said. “… It does not put us in the category of sanctuary city. It allows us to do our job.”

The proposed amendments to the resolve include:

• A commitment to promote strategies ensuring the ongoing inclusion and long-term economic and social integration of newcomers in the city.

• Continued non-biased policing and profiling policies and practices.

• Continued collaboration with federal, state and other local authorities to protect the public safety.

• Not seeking delegated authority for federal immigration law enforcement.

• Not using city resources to assist or cooperate with any surveillance program based solely on race, gender, sexual orientation, religion, ethnicity, or national origin.

• And not using city resources to create a federal registry based solely on race, gender, sexual orientation, religion, ethnicity, or national origin.

Several people said they were still concerned about losing state and federal funding.

“We have much bigger fish to fry in this city right now, than to wave our hands and say we are not racists,” Mike Faulkingham told councilors. “We know this. This is a great city. … Let’s go about things legally and stop wasting time on making these statements that we know are to be true anyway.”

Ed Cobb referenced the multi-million-dollar Clear Skies Ordinance lawsuit the city is fighting and a potential $9 million the city could lose if it is categorized as a sanctuary city.

“At what point in time do we, as the actual taxpayers, matter?” he said.

Other residents supported the new language.

“I just believe very strongly that allowing ICE to come in and take in our citizens and our visitors, is just wrong,” Carolyn Tkach said. “I think it is our obligation to say no.”

Resident Judy Kline agreed.

“I would speak in support of this resolution,” she said. “It’s my understanding that it doesn’t say we declare ourselves a sanctuary city, but it does state things that I think are so important in this day and age. … I think in times like now …. it is so important to state our values and I think that’s what this is.”

Daggett said the law is still evolving, but she believes as it stands, the amended resolution would not make South Portland a sanctuary city.

According to the Center for Immigration Studies, sanctuary jurisdictions “have laws, ordinances, regulations, resolutions, policies, or other practices that obstruct immigration enforcement and shield criminals from ICE — either by refusing to or prohibiting agencies from complying with ICE detainers, imposing unreasonable conditions on detainer acceptance, denying ICE access to interview incarcerated aliens, or otherwise impeding communication or information exchanges between their personnel and federal immigration officers.”

There are believed to be about 300 U.S. cities, counties and states that have adopted sanctuary policies. There are none in Maine.

Rose said the resolution is “a proclamation, an assertion of the community policing that already takes place. … It does not interfere with federal work and federal policing in this area.”

Councilor Linda Cohen argued for the original resolution and said it was the right thing to do. She said it was important for the council to make it clear to the community that “we support you and we won’t tolerate people treating you (like) less than a human being.”

“What we are adding tonight, is doing nothing,” she added. “… There are all kinds of ways that retaliation can be exacted on a community by its federal and state government.”

Councilor Susan Henderson said she supports the measure as long as the city doesn’t violate any laws, call itself a sanctuary city, or hinder the police.

“I think sometimes to be quiet, is very dangerous,” Henderson said. “… I think (this) is a pretty reasonable thing to support,” Henderson said.

But Councilor Maxine Beecher spoke against the amendments, saying she is concerned the city could lose federal funding for its free and reduced lunch program, which, she said, 40 percent of students receive in South Portland.

“I don’t want to take the chance the feds are going to pull those dollars; those kids need to eat,” Beecher said.

She said she was happy with the original resolution, and the hundreds of extra words she referred to as “fluffy” would serve no purpose.

“I don’t want to put any more words in what I refer to as a great resolve,” said Beecher. “It made sense, it was supportive and it really said that we would take care of not only Muslims, but anyone who resides in our community. It also said we would not tolerate discrimination, not only against Muslims but anyone.”

City Manager Scott Morelli said he believes the amended resolution will not put the city in jeopardy. “Does this make us a sanctuary city?” he asked. “I believe this language would not raise the ire of the department of justice.”

The resolution is scheduled to be considered by the council again during its regular meeting on Monday, May 1.

 Melanie Sochan can be reached at 781-3661 ext.106 or Follow her on Twitter @melaniesochan.

South Portland Police Chief Edward Googins speaks during a workshop Monday, April 24, about community policing and the role of the police in working with federal police and immigration officials.