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The Salem News: Voting yes on Sanctuary -- 'A way to help neighbors living in fear'

Voting yes on Sanctuary: 'A way to help neighbors living in fear'

Dustin Luca Staff Writer

SALEM — The Rev. Jeff Barz-Snell, treasurer of the Vote Yes On 1 movement and minister of First Church in Salem, sat in a dimly lit gathering room in the back of the Unitarian Universalist church on Essex Street.

He had just been asked if he thought the Sanctuary for Peace ordinance, which was designed to make undocumented Salem residents feel safer, would lead to a schism instead throughout the City of Peace.

"I'm surprised at how ugly the rhetoric has become over a very simple, straightforward ordinance that was even criticized for not being strong enough," replied Barz-Snell.

"I guess this is part of what it means to live in 2017 in the United States," he said. "But we're better than this."

The City Council approved the sanctuary ordinance by a vote of 7-4 this spring. But opponents successfully petitioned to place a referendum question on the Nov. 7 ballot asking voters to affirm or reject the ordinance. The ballot question, along with a contentious mayor's race, is expected to draw a strong turnout from the city's 30,000 registered voters.

The ordinance affirms existing policies for city employees, which specify that they do not ask about someone's immigration status when providing city services. Supporters say it makes Salem safer, because undocumented immigrants will not be afraid to report crimes or ask for help. Opponents say it could hurt immigrants, and the whole city, by drawing attention from federal immigration authorities.

Barz-Snell was among the speakers in favor of the ordinance when it came before the City Council.

"I read part of Matthew 25, and I said, 'It's right there. When I was hungry, you gave me something to eat. When I was thirsty, you gave me something to drink. And when I was scared my mother and father would be arrested when I was at school, you passed this ordinance.'

"There are innocent, poor people in our midst, in our communities, who are being harmed, who are scared — and that's not right. We're better than that."

Fears of deportation

The ordinance is intended to protect people like Angela Arce, who came to Salem from Paraguay 17 years ago, but has been an undocumented resident for the past 14 years. She spoke with The Salem News for this story through a translator, Lucy Corchado, a leading Latino activist in the city.

"I was invited by a Colombian friend. I came with a visa," Arce said. "It was a visa for three years, and the visa expired."

In Paraguay, Arce studied to become a lawyer, and that led her to the United States. But with an added language barrier, the education here proved too difficult, she said. By that time, however, she had developed roots in the community. Today, she is a board member of the Essex County Community Organization, a member of The Point Neighborhood Association, and a parishioner at Immaculate Conception Church.

As time went on, Arce was also raising a family that came here with her. One child was just a few years old when they entered the country; two other children were born here.

Arce said the national discourse had become less welcoming to undocumented immigrants, a change in tone that has chilled her.

"You couldn't rent an apartment, or someone who was a citizen couldn't help the undocumented or give them a ride," she said, adding that the fear came from the risk of being deported if she asked for help.

"I'd feel like I'd go backwards," Arce said, "if I would listen to all the toxic news I hear today."

Not a choice

Arce's story is like many others in Salem and the country. And the first thing to understand, says Aviva Chomsky, a history professor and coordinator of Latin American studies at Salem State University, is that by and large, undocumented people aren't undocumented by choice.

"It isn't because they're lazy or they don't want to bother working to be a citizen," Chomsky said. "There's no legal path open to them under current U.S. law."

With the election of President Donald Trump, there's a new fear facing those who try to initiate any process to get documented, Chomsky said.

"The Trump administration has announced — and Homeland Security under the Trump Administration — that they're going to go after anyone, even if they're in a legal process to regularize their status," she said.

Under the city's ordinance, Salem police won't act as immigration authorities — which is prohibited by the 10th Amendment. Firefighters won't ask for papers when going out to extinguish a fire. Immigration status is never asked, and when shared, it isn't acted upon locally.

The only collaboration between federal immigration enforcement agencies and city officials is when a person known to be undocumented commits a crime, at which point federal authorities will be notified, as is common practice.

The Sanctuary for Peace ordinance helps, she said, in three ways.

"One... symbolically, it makes a statement about where the city of Salem stands," Chomsky said. "We're contributing to a national movement and a state-level movement, so our voice is really important. The Trump administration is threatening to somehow apply punitive policies to localities that take these measures. So, strength in numbers — the more of us there are, the greater our ability to stand up to those threats and the less the Trump administration can single them out for punishment."

Then, codifying city policies into law is "publicly explaining that we're doing it," Chomsky said. "This puts it on the table for everyone to know. This also makes it official and makes it permanent."

Lastly, "this is a really important statement to the population of Salem and immigrant population of Salem," she added.

What America's about

In a way, it's what America is all about, according to Barz-Snell.

"The last time I checked, America has been a place for a long time that held up the flame of hope and refuge for people fleeing from persecution and looking to build a better life," he said. "We even erected an enormous copper symbol of this at the end of the 19th century. It's called the Statue of Liberty."

Under the ordinance, "Salem is safer," Barz-Snell continued. "Salem is better. I think Salem can be proud of itself when we stand up for the least capable people in our midst, in terms of being able to defend themselves."



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