Protests erupted both outside and inside a city council meeting in suburban Boston Wednesday night as local officials heard public comments about how police there has treated undocumented immigrants. People gathered outside of city hall with picket signs demonstrating against the prospect of the tony Massachusetts town of Newton becoming a so-called sanctuary city, where the local law enforcement does not coordinate with federal authorities to deport illegal immigrants.
The scenes were documented on social media by a local journalist named John Hilliard.
Some of the protesters in and outside of city hall could be seen holding signs that read "NO SANCTUARY CITY" as well as American flags. The group inside city hall chambers were issued a warning after they booed a representative from the American Civil Liberties Union, which has opposed the federal legislation called the "Stop Dangerous Sanctuary Cities Act."
Some of the Newton city councilors were looking to pass the "Welcoming City Ordinance" that would amend the legal language surrounding local law enforcement's right to ask for the immigration status of a person in police custody. The officials want an outright ban of that type of behavior because, as a draft ordinance read, immigration status ""shall have no bearing on a person's treatment by officials and employees of the city," Wicked Local reported.
One state official warned that actions to round up and deport undocumented immigrants in the U.S. were likely to increase under President Donald Trump, whose campaign rhetoric placed an emphasis on immigration. "I think that Donald Trump made it very clear that he wants to eliminate sanctuary cities," Republican State Rep. Geoff Diehl told local news outlet the Recorder on Sunday. "And when (Sessions passes Senate hearings) I think they should expect that there will be a reaffirment of the federal mandate to work with ICE and other federal law enforcement officials to prosecute or get rid of people who are here criminally with criminal backgrounds.” Diehl was referring to Alabama Sen. Jeff Sessions, who was nominated to be the U.S. attorney general in Trump's administration.
There were about 150,000 undocumented immigrants living in Massachusetts, according to a Pew Research Center survey from 2012.
The development in Newton came as a growing number of cities nationwide have been officially declaring themselves sanctuary cities. The most recent place to do so was Santa Ana in Southern California, where the city council voted unanimously to be designated as a sanctuary city on Tuesday, NBC Los Angeles reported.
Perhaps the most infamous sanctuary city has been San Francisco, where an undocumented immigrant who was previously deported multiple times killed 32-year-old Kathryn Steinle in 2015. The murder put the city in the middle of the nation's debate about immigration reform. Earlier this month, a judge threw out a wrongful death lawsuit filed by Steinle's family, determining San Francisco was not responsible for the woman's death, CBS Sacramento reported.