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Mayor says Buffalo is not 'sanctuary city' for refugees

Mayor says Buffalo is not 'sanctuary city' for refugees

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Buffalo is a "refugee resettlement city," not a "sanctuary city," Mayor Byron W. Brown says.

So the mayor believes the city's pro-immigrant stance does not put it in danger of losing any federal funds under President Donald Trump’s executive order, which threatens to withhold aid from sanctuary cities.

“We don’t think the president’s executive order applies,” Brown said. “We are not trying to facilitate illegal immigration. We are trying to support people who have come here legally, make sure they are successfully transitioned, and can be productive members of society."

No details have been released on what federal money could be withheld from sanctuary cities or which cities were being targeted.

What's more, there doesn't seem to be a single, accepted definition of what a sanctuary city is, though the executive order refers to cities that have adopted policies "protecting undocumented immigrants by not prosecuting them for violating federal immigration laws in the country in which they're now living illegally."

"Some refuse to hand over illegals for deportation," the order reads.

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Buffalo has not enacted a sanctuary city law and is not on New York State's list of sanctuary cities, which includes New York City, Rochester and Syracuse.

But Buffalo never has asked its residents for proof of citizenship or for documentation on immigrant status, and there is no policy requiring police to verify immigration status, said Jessica M. Lazarin, an attorney who is director of the city’s Office of New Americans.

"We don't ask," Brown said. "We are a refugee resettlement city. We are welcoming to refugees and immigrants and will continue to be. We are not a sanctuary city. We've seen no need to make a declaration."

In addition, as a city bordering Canada, Buffalo is subject to immigration laws that allow federal agencies within 25 miles of the U.S. border to patrol for “aliens illegally entering the United States,” Lazarin noted.

That law gives the federal agencies access to enter “private land” – including private businesses, but not residences – without a warrant, according to Lazarin.

In one recent case, federal agents looking for undocumented workers in October 2016 raided four Buffalo area Mexicans restaurants and arrested 25 people. The manager of those restaurants last week pleaded guilty in federal court to conspiracy to unlawfully employing 10 illegal aliens.

“Essentially, restricting (Buffalo Police Department) contact and/or cooperation with immigration law enforcement is not likely to make a positive difference for city residents," Lazarin said.

Buffalo is not saying it wouldn’t cooperate with federal agencies if, for example, the federal agencies are seeking illegal immigrants suspected of committing crimes.

And the city already is working with federal agencies investigating human trafficking cases, which sometimes include illegal sex trafficking of undocumented women from other countries, city officials said. As a member of the WNY Trafficking Task Force, the city works with county and federal law enforcement and sometimes transports victims to organizations such as the International Institute of Buffalo, Lazarin said.

Buffalo is a destination for refugees entering the country legally, and they are welcomed by the Buffalo community, Brown said.

“We have not had a multitude of problems reported to us,” he said.

Refugees living in the city have sought to work with Buffalo police, the local FBI and Immigration and Customs Enforcement, as well as Homeland Security offices, as they pursue citizenship and also learn about their own individual and collective rights, Lazarin said.

“It’s becoming well-known that the majority of our foreign-born population are refugees, entering the U.S. under lawful refugee status and able to access a pathway to U.S. citizenship,” Lazarin said.

It's important that immigrants feel welcome in Buffalo and not be targeted by city police, she said.

The city wants to foster an environment of trust between the immigrant community and Buffalo police, Brown said.

“We are a resettlement city, and proudly so. We are a welcoming city, and proudly so,” Brown added. “Legal immigrants and legal refugees, we think, add value.”

Brown further expounded on his position on Twitter:

Brown noted that there has been a 95 percent increase since 2006 in foreign-born residents in Buffalo, bringing the number to about 22,000. Recent refugees come from the Burmese, Bhutan, Somali, Syrian and Iraqi communities.

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