“Imagine Troy Being a Sanctuary City…”
That’s what a postcard asked many Troy residents to consider just days before the recent elections. Across the Capital Region and across the country, activists have pushed for their cities, villages, towns, and counties to declare themselves a sanctuary for immigrants and the undocumented. “Sanctuary” status can mean many different things but essentially amounts to a municipality and its employees not inquiring about one’s immigration status and that its police department personnel will not perform the functions of federal immigration authorities. The movement has grown exponentially in the wake of Trump’s election, with Hudson and Kingston locally having declared themselves sanctuary cities along with dozens of other cities nationwide.
The postcard, rather than talking about the actual consequences of Trump’s immigration policies—like the breaking up of families, as in the case of Ricky Morgan of Utica reported in the local media as just one of countless examples—instead asks you to imagine a knock on your door from a police officer, there “to tell you that your child was killed by an illegal alien.” At the same time, the Troy Republican Committee shared pictures on its Facebook page of Gary Pavlic, the Democratic candidate for Council President, at a rally earlier this summer outside Troy City Hall where residents and community members called on the City Council to declare Troy a sanctuary city. The caption declared Pavlic “too radical” to hold office—of course, the committee says nothing regarding the counterprotesters at that rally who verbally berated Sanctuary supporters and assaulted one, placing him in a headlock.
Fortunately, this bigotry was rebuffed. Instead, Troy residents resoundingly rejected a Republican-controlled city council and the new council will instead have a Democratic supermajority. The Election Day results are clear: a plurality of those voters rejected the anti-immigrant, xenophobic agenda of the Trump Administration at home.
The question now before the new City Council is this: will they take advantage of their mandate and declare Troy a sanctuary city?
While Gary Pavlic and other members of the Troy Democratic City Council slate did attend the rally, none of them are publicly on the record in support of any such sanctuary resolution. None of their campaign materials make reference to the issue whatsoever. While they rode the so-called “Blue Wave” into office, they did so without a public mention of the national political climate. While Troy is often described as a progressive city in the midst of a renaissance, Republicans and their anonymous apparatchiks only represent the surface of its reactionary tendencies. Accordingly, Democrats, both at the city and county level, historically balk at presenting a truly progressive vision for the city. Any discussion moving forward regarding sanctuary will no doubt foment controversy and would be cast as a distraction from other pressing issues such as the city’s budget, its inability to deliver basic city services while increasing the fees on those services, and the quagmire that is the gaping hole in the Monument Square streetscape.
However, we do not have to look far as to why this is a pressing issue. In Saratoga Springs, Immigration and Customs Enforcement waited until one week after the end of track season to resume its raids, kidnapping 8 undocumented workers. In June, before the start of track season, ICE executed two raids, apprehending 27 immigrants. The undocumented can toil for the benefit of the tens of thousands who pour into Saratoga to watch the races, dine out on Broadway, and booze along Caroline Street. But once the season comes to a close, they have been exhausted of their worth. Rather than taking a more aggressive approach to defending her constituents, Mayor Joanne Yepsen referred the matter to committee, forming a Human Rights Task Force, to determine how to make the city “welcoming.” Across the region and particularly in Columbia County, ICE has executed similar raids.
Instead of simpering, local activists organized a true resistance, one that is noncompliant and uncooperative and partially responsible for this electoral mandate in Troy. Many congregations in Saratoga Springs and across the region have opened their churches to the undocumented as a refuge, without regard for their economic surplus value (the only concern ever articulated by the pearl-clutching business owners and other elites in Saratoga Springs).
Sanctuary status is largely a symbolic gesture—it says that a city and its employees will not cooperate with the immoral, reprehensible actions of ICE, but it does not stop the agency from performing its work. However, it is still an important gesture, and it is incumbent upon the Troy City Council to take a stand on the question. Will they cower to shrieks of reaction in Troy who seemingly have no regard for the families broken by these raids or will they join a growing chorus nationwide that Troy rejects Trump’s agenda?
Sean Collins is an organizer at SEIU Local 200 United.