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Cambridge Reaffirms Sanctuary City Status

By Sandra M. Chung


The Cambridge City Council passed a resolution (5-4) reaffirming the city’s status as a “sanctuary city,” in direct response to the Uniting and Strengthening America by Providing Appropriate Tools Required to Intercept and Obstruct Terrorism Act (USA PATRIOT Act). Four MIT students testified before the Council in favor of the resolution: Julia K. Steinberger G, Stephanie W. Wang ’04, Aimee L. Smith G, and Mehdi Yahyanejad G.

Cambridge originally declared itself a sanctuary city in 1985, in response to Federal Bureau of Intelligence (FBI) treatment of illegal Guatemalan, Nicaraguan, and Salvadoran immigrants during the Reagan administration. The new resolution, drafted by the local Human Rights Commission and the Peace and Women’s Commissions, reaffirms the 1985 resolution in prohibiting city employees from participating in the investigation, arrest, or deportation of refugees accused of violating immigration laws.

The new resolution also asks local, federal and state law enforcement to avoid “racial profiling or detention without charges,” and requests that the U.S. Attorney’s Office and the Office of the FBI report to the Cambridge Human Rights Commission on their actions under the USA PATRIOT Act, a piece of antiterrorist legislation signed into law by President Bush on Oct. 26, 2001.

Since the resolution cannot force any citizens to break existing laws, it serves largely to protest the act and related Federal Executive Orders issued since the act’s passage. Several Massachusetts towns have also passed similar resolutions. The act was passed by the Senate by a vote of 98-1 and by the House of Representatives by a vote of 356-66. Four of the 66 Representatives who voted against the act are from Massachusetts.

Act expanded federal powers

Among other changes, the USA PATRIOT Act expanded federal power established in the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act of 1978 to seize and monitor any information or exchanges of information deemed potentially related to terrorism. Its amendments to the Immigration and Nationality Act and the Antiterrorism and Effective Death Penalty Act of 1996 broadly define terrorist activity and terrorist organizations and enable the Secretary of State to designate activity or groups as such.

Under the act, the detention of suspected terrorists and FBI access to medical, financial and educational records, can occur in the absence of official charges against the individuals. The act limits the power of courts to review the legality and constitutionality of such actions through habeas corpus law and judicial review.

The act also expanded the jurisdiction of the Foreign Student Visa Monitoring Program (FSVMP) described in the Illegal Immigration Reform and Immigrant Responsibility Act of 1996, to include “any air flight school, language training school, or vocational school” in addition to established elementary and high schools, conservatories, seminaries, universities and colleges. The FSVMP affects international students, some of whom have been called home or have faced difficulty renewing visas after the Sept. 11 tragedy.

The protection of the federal government as described in the USA PATRIOT Act extends to U.S. citizens. The text of the act states that “the civil rights and civil liberties of all Americans, including Arab Americans, Muslim Americans, and Americans from South Asia, must be protected, and that every effort must be taken to preserve their safety.”

However, the Cambridge City Council resolution states that “the Bill of Rights and the Constitution of Massachusetts guarantee those living in the United States,” citizens and non-citizens, the same civil rights.