City councilors are considering making Winooski a sanctuary city.
The Onion City would put on paper its practice of not asking residents about immigration status while “providing municipal services or in the course of law enforcement,” according to a city council resolution. The resolution describes the city as Vermont’s “most diverse community.”
Councilors on Monday evening will discuss and possibly vote on the resolution, which would set in motion the research and development of specific policy, Mayor Seth Leonard said.
“We’ve had reports of folks having fear and not feeling like they can move around the community freely, and unfortunately, that’s a byproduct of the rhetoric on the national level,” Leonard told Seven Days. “We’ve got enough local issues, so this is a practical way of saying we’re not the immigration police and it’s not something we’re going to be concerned with as we provide municipal services.”
Such a policy is already in place, but Leonard said the official designation would allow the city to codify the practice. Burlington officials made a similar argument last week when Mayor Miro Weinberger announced the city’s intention to seek the designation.
File: Oliver Parini
Leonard said that about 13 percent of Winooski’s 7,500 residents are foreign-born; about the same percentage speak a language other than English at home. Most are legal immigrants and many are refugees who resettled in the city. Leonard said that his office has received several calls and emails from advocates for immigrant groups who spoke of concerns after Donald Trump was elected president.
The president-elect has spoken about punishing sanctuary cities by withholding federal funding. Leonard said the city could lose out on certain grants from the Department of Justice. The council is expected to review estimates of the financial implications during Monday’s meeting.
Winooski officials have considered the sanctuary city designation for some time, Leonard said. As a destination for refugee resettlement, the city has long worked to welcome people of all backgrounds, he added.
“We’ve taken a number of steps previously that have made clear we really value diversity here in Winooski,” Leonard said. “It’s not something we just allow but something we value and treasure and think is an important part of our community.”