Somerville mayor: We will remain a sanctuary city—even if Trump pulls our federal funding

"If we lose this funding, we will tighten our belts, but we will not sell our community values short."

Somerville Mayor Joseph Curtatone
Somerville Mayor Joseph Curtatone. –Josh Reynolds / The Boston Globe

Despite Donald Trump’s threats, Somerville says it’s staying a sanctuary city.

In a public letter Monday, city officials reaffirmed their commitment to the policy, even if the Republican president-elect follows through on pledges to pull federal funding for sanctuary cities, a general term for cities that do not cooperate with federal efforts to detain undocumented immigrants.

“We will not turn our back on our neighbors,” wrote Mayor Joseph Curtatone and Ben Echevarria, the executive director of The Welcome Project, a local immigrant organizing group.

“Our diversity is our strength,” the letter said. “Since we became a sanctuary city, our crime rate has dropped more than 50%. In fact, our crime rate for every type of violent crime is below the state and national averages.”

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Curtatone also noted that Somerville’s unemployment rate was 2.2 percent.

“For anyone who claims that cracking down on sanctuary cities has something to do with high crime or a stagnant economy, Somerville stands as a flashing, neon billboard for how wrong that thinking is,” they wrote. “Data shows more of the real story.”

Curtatone and Echevarria noted that the city does cooperate with federal immigration efforts in cases involving violent, felony, or serious crimes.

“Unfortunately too many people get bad information on what a sanctuary actually is,” they wrote.

Since July 2015—when a San Francisco women was murdered, allegedly by an undocumented immigrant—Donald Trump, among other Republicans, have made calls to end sanctuary cities. At a Phoenix rally in August, then-candidate Trump pledged to work to cut off federal funding received by sanctuary cities.

Such a move would put Somerville, among other Massachusetts cities, at risk of losing millions.

But Somerville officials said Monday the city won’t cave on its values, regardless of what the president-elect decides to do.

How much federal funding could we lose? A lot. Currently Somerville receives approximately $6 million in recurring federal funds per year for things like special education, school lunch programs, substance abuse prevention, and homeland security. That constitutes about 3% of our annual budget. Additional grants for programs such as housing are also sought each year. If we lose this funding, we will tighten our belts, but we will not sell our community values short.

Mind you, our hope is that once our new president reviews accurate information, he will not cut this funding. It would be a reckless policy. The economic engines at the heart of ten of the eleven largest metropolitan areas in the nation are sanctuary and Trust Act cities. Those ten areas are home to more than 78 million people, roughly one-quarter of our entire U.S. population. In all, there are more than 320 sanctuary cities in the United States, plus 32 counties and four states that limit local law enforcement’s involvement in federal immigration enforcement. Good luck having a working economy if you pull federal funding from them all.

The letter did not address the $1-billion federal grant the MBTA and MassDOT hope to receive for the Green Line extension.

Curtatone has said sanctuary cities were formed because immigrants (documented or not) have been found to be less likely to report crimes and cooperate with law enforcement if they fear being questioned about their documentation status.

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“Stereotyping makes people more distrustful,” Curtatone told Boston.com in September.

According to city officials, one-third of Somerville residents are documented immigrants.

“The Trump campaign put diversity in its crosshairs,” the letter said. “If cities have to make a stand for basic human decency, then we’re going to make that stand.”

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