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Rochester acts to protect immigrants


Rochester officials and area activists are responding with concern to the Trump administration's immigration plan.

The deportations are likely to have a serious impact in Upstate New York, not only in rural areas, where immigrants are working on farms and vineyards, but also in cities, whose residents include refugees from countries the administration is targeting.

Last week, City Council approved Mayor Lovely Warren's resolution updating Rochester's Sanctuary City status. The resolution states that city personnel will not inquire or request proof of immigration status or citizenship when providing services or benefits unless specifically required to do so by law.

At last week's City Council meeting, Sandra Boehlert was among some 20 speakers urging passage of new Sanctuary City legislation. - PHOTO BY KEVIN FULLER
  • At last week's City Council meeting, Sandra Boehlert was among some 20 speakers urging passage of new Sanctuary City legislation.

Rochester police officers won't help Immigration and Customs Enforcement agents enforce the new Trump orders by, for instance, asking people about their immigration status unless it's a necessary part of a criminal-activity investigation. They won't stop and question people simply because they appear to be immigrants.

But that doesn't provide protection for immigrants who interact with county government – county social services staff, for instance, or sheriff's deputies.

Democratic County Legislator Mark Muoio wants the county to declare itself a sanctuary county, but that doesn't look likely. County Executive Cheryl Dinolfo believes that would be "gambling with the safety and well being of county residents," county communications director Brett T. Walsh said in an email statement late last week.

"Monroe County receives $137 million in federal funding for things such as Family Assistance, Child Protective Services, pre-school special education, road and bridge maintenance along with funding for our Office of Emergency Management," Walsh said. Losing that money could hurt residents who rely on those services, he said.

As Walsh notes, federal funding could be at risk. President Trump has threatened to withhold funds from local governments that refuse to help with the deportations.

The City of Rochester's current fiscal-year budget includes $5.6 million in federal funds, provided specifically for Community Development Block Grants, transportation, federal nutrition programs, and other efforts, Warren spokesperson James Smith said late last week.

But city officials – and New York Attorney General Eric Schneiderman – are convinced that the federal government has no basis for withholding the money. Courts have ruled that local governments cannot be required to perform functions outside of their legal responsibilities, Smith said. To withhold funds that local governments are entitled to, the federal government would have to show that "either you're not doing something you're obliged to do or you're doing something illegal," Smith said. "Neither is the case."

Activist groups and service agencies that work with immigrants are also discussing ways to respond to the Trump administration's move.

"Trump has done something positive, in one sense," said John Ghertner of the Greater Rochester Coalition for Immigration Justice and Wayne County Action for Racial Equality. "He's energized a lot of people to get involved."

Local activists are "going to restart our rapid response and immigration defense teams," Ghertner said. "If someone is pulled over, we're going to document what is happening with video and photography. We're going to try help in every way we can."

Kevin Fuller, Jeremy Moule, and Tim Macaluso contributed to this article.