The Durham Town Council made the decision on Monday night that it will not move forward with designating the town as a sanctuary city. Had it been approved, Durham would have been the first town in the state of New Hampshire to do so. On the night of the council’s decision, which was two weeks in the making, residents of Durham gathered in Town Hall to discuss the subject of becoming a sanctuary city.
Sanctuary cities, according to CBS News,  “offer safe harbor for undocumented immigrants who might otherwise be deported by federal immigration law enforcement officials.” 

CBS News also reports that there are over 140 sanctuary jurisdictions, both cities and counties, across the United States; such cities include San Francisco, New York, Chicago, Seattle, Miami and Los Angeles.

The debate regarding Durham’s status as a sanctuary city continued into Monday night with Town Administrator Todd Selig agreeing with the majority of the town council that the town shouldn’t become such a sanctuary. After much deliberation and discussion with both members of the town and UNH students, most of the council felt that as of right now, it wouldn’t be necessary and might even hurt the town if they were to declare such a status.

In preparation for Monday’s meeting, Daniel Riel, a Dover resident, participated in a phone banking session on Monday where he and a group of activists called city and town council members in Portsmouth, Durham, Somersworth and Dover in an effort to encourage the members to endorse the sanctuary status and protect the rights of immigrants. 

Upon hearing the decision of Monday’s meeting, Riel said he was disappointed.

“I understand their concerns about Trump’s executive orders. Going forward I think what is very possible is putting legislation in place that would protect immigrants’ rights,” he said. 

Riel also criticized the idea of local towns rejecting a sanctuary status based solely on the notion that they might have lower immigrant populations than most major cities.

“We’re supposed to represent all people, not just majority demographics,” Riel said.

According to Town Council member Katherine “Kitty” Marple, the issue of reporting undocumented immigrants has never been a serious problem in the town. Most sanctuary cities, as she pointed out, are large cities with larger immigrant populations that dwarfs Durham’s.  However, she said that it is necessary for Durham to continue supporting its immigrant community.

Marple, who heads the Durham Human Rights Commission, is leading the effort to draft a resolution to reaffirm Durham’s commitment to immigrants and at-risk community members.

Selig said that the discussion took approximately three hours and the town members in attendance to Monday’s meeting were very adamant about the subject, especially in regard to the current political climate due to President Donald Trump’s recent executive order that established an immigration and refugee ban for seven predominantly Muslim nations. Several Iranian students spoke during the meeting, raising concerns over the current attitudes of the federal government toward immigration.

The Human Rights Commission will be drafting the resolution over the next few months, possibly as soon as March. Once written, the town of Durham will send it “up through the political food chain,” as Marple described it.

The resolution is expected to be sent to state representatives, senators and even the federal government. The exact details of the resolution are unknown as of now, but the message is to tell both the community members and the state that Durham is as Selig described, “a welcoming community.”

Selig said there are also plans to set up signs throughout the town to welcome diversity. There is also another proposal to evaluate how Durham might help those coming from other countries. Beyond that, there are no other policies that have been presented regarding the subject. Selig’s opposition to the idea of Durham becoming a sanctuary city is partly related a recent executive order issued by Trump

On Jan. 25, Trump signed an executive order that concerned “sanctuary jurisdictions” that willingly refuse to comply with federal laws. According to the order, the Attorney General “shall take appropriate enforcement action against any entity that violates 8 U.S.C. 1373, or which has in effect a statute, policy, or practice that prevents or hinders the enforcement of Federal law.” It also states that such jurisdictions are “not eligible to receive Federal grants, except as deemed necessary for law enforcement purposes by the Attorney General or the Secretary [of Homeland Security].”

Selig is also against becoming a sanctuary jurisdiction on the principle of following the law.

“We are a nation of laws. Local officials have taken an oath to uphold the law. We can change laws through legislation, if we think a law should be illegal. Change it in the court… It’s a very slippery slope if we pick and choose laws to follow,” Selig said.

The next Durham Town Council meeting will be Monday, Feb. 20 at 7 p.m.

Executive Editor