SOMERS, N.Y. - Town board members have repeatedly said Somers is a tolerant and inclusive community, but several residents say their words are not enough.
Months ago, the board took no action on a petition asking the town to give some protection against deportation to residents who live or work here illegally. After removing some of the petition’s more “contentious areas,” including the politically divisive “Sanctuary City” term, resident Michael Blum resubmitted his petition for adoption. The resolution focuses heavily on illegal immigrants being able to call on the services of first responders without fear of being deported.
Blum, speaking at the June 8 meeting, said he was disturbed by the board’s response to the first draft of his petition, saying some officials exhibited “visual angst” at the April 13 meeting. Prior to that meeting, board members disclosed to The Somers Record that they were not likely to adopt the petition. Blum said he took exception to Morrissey telling this paper that, “There are no people living in fear in the town of Somers” because of their undocumented status.
Blum said the board’s words and inaction “confirmed the fears” of immigrants who are living in Somers illegally.
“For those kids who are either painting swastikas, yelling racial epithets or simply making fun of immigrants who do not speak English, let me be clear, I am not condoning their actions, but I understand where the source of these acts come from,” Blum said. “A clear message needs to come from all of us, not just the town, that this is not who we are and the adults ought to know better.”
This time around, Blum was joined by several other residents who backed up his petition.
Heidi Cambareri said the town should follow the school district’s lead when it comes to taking stances on bullying. She said not adopting the petition reflects poorly on Somers and will discourage potential renters and homeowners from living here.
Virginia Goodfriend Sheridan said, contrary to what Morrissey said, hatred “is alive and well in Somers.”
“What are we saying to these people? Are we saying we’re open for some, but not all? We’re sending a pretty big message here,” Sheridan said.
Patricia Compton agreed, saying the board cannot understand the plight of its minority residents.
“I’m looking around the room here and there are no people of color that I am aware of,” Compton said. “I am here standing for my neighbors of color who have told me about the experiences of their children in their schools and their experiences within our town.”
Patrick De Sena, a former councilman, said it is up to local municipalities, like Somers, to push back against the “bullying” that is coming from the federal government. If the board took issue with the petition, he encouraged them to rework it until it was satisfactory to them.
“If we start at the local level, I think we can bring people together across this country,” De Sena said.
Morrissey told the speakers that he agreed with “98 percent” of their comments, but said municipal governments have no business adopting policies on immigration.
“These do not fall under the purview of the town,” Morrissey said.
In response to the initial petition, Morrissey published a statement on the town’s website reaffirming that Somers is a welcoming community. He said that immigrants living in Somers illegally need not worry about receiving the same access to emergency services because local first responders are not asking about immigration status.
Morrissey and Councilman Anthony Cirieco said, since the first petition was submitted in April, they have made a point of speaking with first responders and local religious groups about the plight of immigrants in the community.
“I’m not saying some people don’t feel what you feel, but I’m not getting a sense of what you’re expressing, although we do have [individual] issues that arise from time to time,” Cirieco said.
Adopting this resolution, he said, “puts the town squarely against the federal government” on immigration policies.
Councilman Richard Clinchy said there is nothing “less American” than asking a person about their immigration status based on their appearance, but added, “I don’t believe that happens in Somers at all.”
“No matter what we do, we all know you know we can’t control the actions of all people,” Clinchy said. “There are going to be people for whatever reasons they have, who are filled with hate, filled with bias, who will do things that almost all people will say, ‘Oh, that’s terrible.’”
Clinchy, though, said he would entertain a petition if it was not written “in a controversial way.” Last July, for example, the town board unanimously adopted a petition declaring that it would make a commitment to stamp out anti-Semitism.
“If there are people who we could make feel more comfortable with something that affirms American values of due process, then I’d say OK, it’s a good thing,” he said.
Councilman Thomas Garrity, who was not at the meeting, said the original petition submitted by Blum was too political for the town board. Just because a few buzzwords are removed, Garrity said, does not make it any less so.
“I always try to be apolitical,” Garrity said. “I believe when this petition was originally brought out, it was very political. We’ve managed to be very nonpolitical as a board. We’re obviously an inclusive community.”
Garrity cited the town board’s 2016 resolution on anti-Semitism and Morrissey’s statement on the town website that Somers is an inclusive community.
“I do not believe we need to reaffirm these things,” Garrity said.
Not pleased with their responses, Blum continued speaking from his seat in the audience.
“I don’t understand what you’re saying,” Blum said. “If you had a problem with it, then why didn’t you do what you said you were going to do last time, which is reword it?”
Cirieco offered to take the conversation “offline,” to which Blum responded, “You made your views very clear.”