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Rhinebeck as a sanctuary city?
BY JIM LANGAN • ORIGINALLY PUBLISHED 11/23/16
Reaction to Donald Trump’s surprise victory in the November 8 election has taken many forms. Protests and demonstrations have broken out around the country, particularly in democratic strongholds in big cities. The protests have focused on what some see as Trump’s lack of tolerance and the real or imagined threat his administration might pose to minorities and particularly immigrants living in the United States illegally. Trump has promised to enforce existing immigration law and deport millions; and many Americans support him in that regard. In reaction, a number of big city mayors have gone on record doubling down on their commitment to maintaining their cities as so-called “sanctuary cities.”
Those cities are pledged not to cooperate with federal immigration authorities in reporting illegals and to make necessary municipal services and benefits available to those seeking assistance regardless of legal status. But such sentiment is not confined to urban America. In Rhinebeck this week, Village Trustee Gina Fox said she was investigating the possibility of having Rhinebeck become a sanctuary city. In a conversation with Hudson Valley News, Fox emphasized she was in the early stages of exploring the possibility of pursuing that objective.
“This investigation is driven by fear in the wake of Donald Trump’s election. People are fearful including immigrants and members of the LGTB community. People are already under siege.” Fox indicated that acts and expressions of intolerance have increased significantly since the election and believes any sanctuary designation should also include LGBT and other minority groups.
Fox said she fully understands there will be significant opposition to her proposal and hopes to address those concerns by convening a number of community forums intended to give all sides the opportunity to express their opinions. Fox pointed out she has received 30 to 40 expressions of support since first floating the idea on her Facebook page. Fox also said she was reaching out to other communities around the country who have experience with the sanctuary concept to determine the pros and cons of such an action. Fox said Rhinebeck Supervisor Elizabeth Spinzia is aware of her effort and is supportive.
When asked about the impact such a policy might have on municipal services and attendant tax issues, Fox said she was initially focused on people already “under siege” locally. “But if you’re talking about the fear of a number of illegal immigrants gravitating to Rhinebeck, think about all the contributions immigrants are already making our community.”
When queried about Trump’s threat to cut off federal funding to sanctuary communities, Fox said she doubted Rhinebeck residents would want any federal money that came with any discriminatory strings attached. Fox referenced the federal grant money designated for Rhinebeck’s Thompson-Mazzarella Park as an example.
Dutchess County Executive Marc Molinaro told Hudson Valley News there are already laws on the books that protect residents from discrimination. “In New York and Dutchess County violations are not tolerated. In Dutchess we have a Human Rights Commission and it is the place to bring those concerns and they would enforce the protection of civil rights.”
A discussion with officials familiar with municipal law indicated Fox’s proposal would be difficult to translate into law. One source said, “Towns and villages do not have the authority to make law, only the state can make that kind of law never mind the federal government.”
“Rhinebeck continues to be a welcoming community to all and is more diverse now than it has ever been,” Village of Rhinebeck Mayor Heath Tortorella said. “Declaring Rhinebeck a ‘sanctuary community’ will offer little benefit, but may attract unnecessary and unwanted attention to friends and neighbors currently living peacefully in our community. The Village Police Department does not operate under a profiling policy and does not actively seek to determine the immigration status of the individuals that it interacts with. The Village Board has not discussed this proposal and I do not expect any changes to the policies and procedures that guide our police department. We will continue to protect and serve in cooperation with county, state, and federal law enforcement agencies.”
President-elect Donald Trump’s nominee for attorney general, Sen. Jeff Sessions, is on record as saying he will prosecute any community that harbors illegal immigrants.
It remains to be seen if Fox’s efforts garner the kind of attention similar measures have drawn around the country. But given Rhinebeck’s prominence and the presence of so many influential New York City weekenders, this is an issue that could roil the community going forward.