Welcoming communities

Last week, Mount Desert became the first community in Maine to adopt a so-called sanctuary statement.

By a nearly 2-1 margin at town meeting, residents embraced an affirmative resolution that does not require the police department to violate federal law.

The resolution sought to “protect the independence of our local law enforcement by refusing to require police or town employees to serve as enforcers of federal immigration law.”

Unlike larger metropolitan areas that have passed “sanctuary city” ordinances that seek to prohibit police activity, the Mount Desert resolution does not carry the weight of law. It simply states the desire of residents to have their town known as a place that is welcoming and safe for residents, visitors and immigrants.

At Mount Desert’s town meeting, Police Chief Jim Willis said this of the resolution: “I embrace the concept. I think that is who we are as a community and should continue to be.”

At the same time, he acknowledged that no local resolution can direct law enforcement officials to ignore laws or court directives. As far as local police being a “tool” of federal authorities, Willis said: “We simply don’t have the authority to enforce federal immigration laws. I’m not sworn as a federal officer, nor are any of the people who work for us.”

The department, which operates in tandem with Bar Harbor, does occasionally assist federal agents in serving criminal warrants or arresting fugitives but does not go out of its way to investigate immigration status in routine interactions with the public.

Along with a deluge of statements of support online, the passage of the sanctuary resolution in Mount Desert also has been subject to a good measure of derision as well. But in the vast majority of those comments, it is obvious that opponents do not fully understand exactly what it says or what it was intended to do.

In June, Bar Harbor voters will be asked to vote on an identical resolution. It is Article AA, on the agenda for the open portion of town meeting on Tuesday, June 6.

It states in part: “Whereas Bar Harbor is a community known for welcoming people of all races, religions, sexual orientations, and gender identities, and whereas its local economy is driven by this diversity, we formally declare ourselves a sanctuary community.”

It also states the goals are to “promote public trust and cooperation that keeps our community safe by ensuring all residents, regardless of immigration status, feel comfortable contacting the police or fire departments during emergencies and public safety situations” and “foster trust and respect between residents of Bar Harbor, the municipal government, law enforcement personnel, seasonal workers, and visitors by posting this resolution prominently in our community and encouraging a similar resolution at the county level.”

When considered in the context within which it is offered as a sense of the community, and with the understanding that no matter what language is included, it cannot compel police to ignore their sworn duty, it too deserves support.

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