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Late last year, Salem’s City Council and community activists embarked upon a long and winding road through discussions of a Sanctuary for Peace ordinance for Salem. The journey was sometimes fretful and unsettling, as residents expressed viewpoints that mirrored and magnified the national debate on immigration.
The Gables’ series of community conversations on immigration offered a safe space for these discussions, and we witnessed first-hand the value of institutional spaces for community dialogue and debate. Over 100 people crowded our Visitor Center and lobby on February 22nd, when the first community conversation on the topic of sanctuary cities was held at The Gables.
At our second community dialogue on immigration on March 22nd, our series of community conversations came of age. Our Settlement legacy acquired new purpose and meaning in an unsettled community.
On that blustery March evening, a modest turnout was expected, but we were pleasantly surprised when staff had to bring out more chairs for the public, as residents from Salem and other North Shore towns again gathered to learn about the consequences of local police departments enforcing federal immigration law.
Our featured speakers were Dr. Nik Theodore of the University of Illinois-Urbana and Salem’s Police Chief Mary Butler. They discussed the effects of police involvement in immigration law enforcement. Dr. Theodore presented results from a 2013 study in which researchers surveyed 2,000 Latinos in four cities regarding their perceptions of police and public safety, given instances of police involvement in immigration enforcement. The results from this research informed his conclusion that in order to maintain safe and thriving communities, it was important for city leaders to draw a “bright line” between the duties of local police departments and the work of ICE officials in implementing immigration law. Chief Butler shared the current policies and practices of the Salem Police Department and the reasoning behind them. Audience members contributed to the conversation with many thoughtful questions and insightful comments.
The Gables will continue to serve proudly as a forum for gathering community, even as unpredictable outside forces threaten to pull us apart. On March 29th, the Salem City Council voted 7 – 4 to adopt the Sanctuary for Peace Ordinance, highlighting the relevance of the Gables’ Settlement legacy in a new and uncertain time.Tags: settlement, settlement house
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This post was written by Julie Arrison-Bishop