If you’re like me and have watched the town board meetings, you may feel that the production may not be the most scintillating TV content. For a change, I would urge you to watch the two town board meetings from May 5 and June 8. The recordings are found on the Somers town website.
On those two evenings, I and a few other residents presented the following resolution (prologue only): Reaffirming the town of Somers, N.Y. as a welcoming and inclusive township and to continue to have town services operate within their current scope and mandate and provide public reassurance to undocumented immigrants that they continue, as before, to report crimes, fires and emergencies without fear of detention or immigration status identification. This scope of this resolution is inclusive of undocumented workers and residents and their families, who work or live in the town of Somers.
The Resolution was presented twice in order to overcome certain objections by the board. As you will see in the video, very little discussion was directed toward the premise of the resolution. The discussions mostly centered on the degree that this town is inclusive and welcoming. In other words, do we have an issue with intolerance in our town? This issue often became subjective as everyone based it on individual experiences. As in other towns, this is an emotional topic and through a number of heated discussions we never reached a full understanding of the severity. Clearly, intolerance has an impact on how we treat immigrants—legal or illegal.
The main thrust of the resolution is the impact of the immigrants’ fear on public safety. Let me explain the premise: Many residents, particularly those residents whose English is a second language, may not understand the law related to identification, detention and deportation of undocumented immigrants.
We have hundreds of immigrant workers (who may be undocumented) coming into the town daily to work on our lawns, gardens, in shops and restaurants. We also have neighbors whose children attend the schools. In fact, the NY Metro area has the largest number of undocumented immigrants, even more than Los Angeles (Pew Research). The majority of these immigrants (70 to 80 percent) have been living in the United States for 10 or more years, have not committed any crimes, and are well-integrated into mainstream America.
After all that time, undocumented immigrants live in fear of deportation as they watch ICE agents detaining and deporting non-criminal immigrant family members. Knowing the law, they would realize that immigration status, detention and deportation is the responsibility of the federal government or ICE, and that all local police, fire, EMS and municipal employees cannot ask for immigration status upon being called to respond to an emergency. In short, they should not be afraid to do what is a responsibility of every town resident—report an emergency immediately.
The resolution is asking to publically publish the current understanding in English and in Spanish, on the town website, and in all municipal buildings.
The issue of intolerance and racism requires a broader conversation by all of us. The Somers Central School District has taken the action to implement the “No Place for Hate” initiative in all schools as a first positive step. The supervisor has taken an informal survey of the town clergy and the school principals and has not found this issue to be a problem. Many parents fear that this problem has only increased as our country becomes more divisive by the day. In the end, we all want the same thing, for Somers to celebrate newcomers and welcome the diversity. Our town will continue to change, but it is important to reaffirm inclusivity and tolerance—principles that have made our town special for us and our children.
If you believe that this resolution will, in fact, promote public safety, or if you believe that we have issues with intolerance or racism that require more than proclamations, I would urge you to come to the next town board meeting or email your representatives on the board. It is important in these times we are living in, with so much noise, to have a voice.