Attorney general OKs Amherst’s sanctuary bylaw

  • Ana Ascencio, an Amherst College student, leads a chant during a student-organized walkout protesting the immigration policies proposed by President-elect Donald Trump in November 2016. GAZETTE FILEP HOTO

Staff Writer
Wednesday, November 08, 2017

AMHERST — A bylaw that makes Amherst a sanctuary community, offering protections to undocumented immigrants and ensuring that police aren’t allowed to collect certain information about people’s immigration status, can go into effect.

Massachusetts Attorney General Maura Healey on Nov. 3 notified Town Clerk Sandra Burgess that the bylaw, approved by Town Meeting in May by a vote of 165-4, doesn’t conflict with the Constitution or state laws, and is consistent with the Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court’s ruling in Lunn vs. Commonwealth regarding Immigrations and Customs Enforcement civil detainer requests.

“On the contrary, the bylaw’s central mandate, that Amherst’s law enforcement officials shall not detain individuals solely on the basis of a civil immigration detainer request or ICE administrative warrant, is in in harmony with the Lunn court’s conclusion,” reads the letter, signed by Margaret J. Hurley, chief of the attorney general’s central Massachusetts division.

Select Board Chairman Douglas Slaughter said in a statement that town officials are pleased with the attorney general’s decision.

“The values and the content of the bylaw truly reflect the values we seek to hold as a community,” he said.

Both the Select Board and Human Rights Commission endorsed the bylaw, which was brought as a citizen petition.

“While no document is perfect, we are proud to be part of a community that looks to protect the rights we all share, and limit the possibilities and impact of racial and ethnic profiling,” Human Rights Commission Chairman Matthew Charity said in a statement.

Healey’s approval of the bylaw comes after U.S. Attorney General Jeff Sessions warned last summer that sanctuary cities could be at risk of losing federal money if local departments don’t give ICE officials access to detention facilities and provide the agency at least 48 hours notice before releasing a person sought for alleged immigration violations.

But town officials have repeatedly said they are confident that the $1.5 million in federal funding the town receives will not be stripped.

Scott Merzbach can be reached at smerzbach@gazettenet.com.