Remember, Rochester is a “city of sanctuaries.”

Remember, Rochester is a “city of sanctuaries.”

The May 27th, 1986 Resolution. Provided by the Communications Bureau, Rochester City Hall

Today, President Trump is expected to sign an executive order targeting sanctuary cities.  In his nomination speech at the G.O.P. convention, Trump proclaimed his opposition to Sanctuary Cities — Rochester is a “city of sanctuaries” — and that day has come.

Below see Trump denounces “sanctuary cities.” Where will that leave Rochester?

Sancturary snippet

The Resolution was sent to President Ronald Reagan.

The good news is that in City Hall, the City Council and at the University of Rochester efforts are underway to push back against Trump’s threats.

Last week Mayor Warren called for action to update the Rochester’s 1986 city of sanctuaries resolution.

And recently I communicated with Councilmember Elaine Spaull, East District. Elaine well remembers the 1986 resolution:

It [declaring Rochester a city of sanctuaries] was an act of camaraderie with our brothers and sisters from El Salvador Some of us were involved with churches such as Corpus Christi who led the charge.

Elaine says the City Council is having serious discussions on an appropriate and robust response.

I also spoke with University of Rochester Student’s Association Vice President Melissa Holloway, spokesperson for the UR Refugee Student Alliance Volunteer Group that is seeking to make the University a sanctuary campus.

Melissa said the group was formed in anticipation of Trump’s possible election. With Trump’s impending executive order, the group is gearing up its mobilization. Melissa says the group welcomes any action by the City Council.

Recently, I went to the Freedom of Information desk at the Communications Bureau in City Hall to find the original resolution. The clerks were very helpful and quickly provided the full May 27th, 1986 document.

CityofSanctuaries1986 (compiled by Melissa)

Trump denounces “sanctuary cities.” Where will that leave Rochester?

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Democrat and Chronicle. May 13th, 1986 Research help with this project was provided by the Central Library’s Local History Department and the History Division

July 22, 2016

Discussing immigrationIn his nomination speech yesterday, Donald Trump said: “My opponent [Hillary Clinton] wants Sanctuary Cities.” Taking his message from Ted Cruz’ playbook, recently Trump has made Sanctuary Cities a campaign issue.

In May, in response by efforts by San Francisco officials to expand the city’s sanctuary city laws, Trump said:

Sanctuary cities are a disaster. They’re a safe-haven for criminals and people that should not have a safe-haven in many cases. It’s just unacceptable. We’ll be looking at sanctuary cities very hard.

And closer to home, as reported in the July 10th New York Post, “Republicans join Trump in denouncing Sanctuarary Cities”, Congressional Republicans strongly objected after Senate Democrats blocked a bill forcing sanctuary cities — including New York — to cooperate with the federal government on deportations of illegal immigrants who commit crimes.

The Sanctuary City movement began in the 1980s. The term is applied by some to cities in the United States (or Canada) that have policies designed to not prosecute undocumented immigrants and exiles. 31 US cities have designated themselves Sanctuary Cities, including Washington, D.C.; New York City, Jersey City; Los Angeles; Philadelphia, San Francisco; Santa Ana; San Diego; San Jose; Oakland; Salt Lake City; Dallas; Houston; Detroit; Chicago; Salinas, California; Minneapolis; Miami; Denver; Baltimore; Seattle; Portland, Oregon; New Haven; Somerville; Cambridge; and Portland, Maine.


Democrat and Chronicle, May 28th, 1986 Research help with this project was provided by the Central Library’s Local History Department and the History Division

Less well known is that on May 27th, 1986 the Rochester City Council, by a 6 – 2 vote, declared Rochester a “city of sanctuaries.” The Council had debated an amendment by Councilman John G. Erb for the stronger label, Sanctuary City, that would have offered illegal aliens some protection from prosecution or federal enforcement efforts.

Ultimately, the mostly symbolic designation “city of sanctuaries” was approved, one that does include official support for the actions of the six Rochester sanctuary congregations aiding refugees from war torn Central America.

At the time, co-sponsor Councilman Tim Mains praised the resolution for advancing Rochester’s tradition of providing assistance to persecuted people, exemplified by the participation of citizens in the underground railroad.

Nonetheless, for almost 30 years now the vote of the City Council to name Rochester a city of sanctuaries has stood.

While larger cities with stronger sanctuary policies — like San Francisco and New York — would be targeted under a Trump Administration, realistically, calls to revoke Rochester’s 1986 resolution are unlikely.


Julie (left) with Carol Kramer protesting against the Iraq War in Washington, D.C. 2003

At the same time, Trump’s anti-sanctuary city rhetoric invokes memories of the mid 1980s when Rochestarians actively demonstrated solidarity with the peoples of Central American: building bridges not walls.

To learn more Rochester’s sanctuary movement I turned to Julie Everitt who you have met before.

During the mid-80s, El Salvador was involved in a bloody civil war, exemplified by notorious “death squads” preying upon peasants and human rights activists. Many El Salvadorean refugees left for the United States, including coming to Rochester.


Democrat and Chronicle, May 28th, 1986 Research help with this project was provided by the Central Library’s Local History Department and the History Division

Six Rochester churches provided a haven for refugees, most of whom were considered by authorities to be illegal aliens. The precipitating event behind the City Council resolution was the arrest and jailing by the Immigration and Naturalization Service of Alejandro Gomez, one of the refugees sheltered by the churches. In response, the City Council resolution called upon federal authorities to halt deporting procedures against Gomez.

Julie’s late husband, Tom Harris (whose poem “In a clinic in Paiwas” you have read) was involved in raising money to cover the cost of Gomez’ bail.

Like many Rochesterians, Tom’s work extended beyond the Gomez case. Julie says, amongst others, Gail and Peter Mott, Arnie Matlin, Michael Argaman and Jim Good were involved in supporting Latin American peoples through the Rochester Committee on Latin America (ROCLA) and Sister City Project of Metro Justice.


a 1990 UPSTATE article on Tom’s trips to Nicaragua

Tom was very active in Project Bueno, a project to support a Women’s Furniture Cooperative. To provide needed financial support, funds were raised through a newsletter Tom edited. I remember Tom inviting me to a fundraising Line Dance at a local church celebrating Latino-American culture in all its colorful richness.

As seen in “In a clinic in Paiwas,” Tom also went to Nicaragua a half-dozen times, bringing supplies and solidarity.

Looking back 30 years later, Julie comments, “It was a different era — one more sympathetic to refugees and immigrants.”

I do not know what Trump thinks about the sanctuary movement of the 1980s or the Rochester City Council’s principled resolution. But when he calls to end, stop and eliminate Sanctuary Cities, remember that Rochester is a “city of sanctuaries” — and should be proud of it.


In Washington Square Park remembering the first March for Woman’s Lives, April 1989

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About The Author

Welcome to Talker of the Town! My name is David Kramer. I have a Ph.D in English and teach at Keuka College. I am a former and still active Fellow at the Nazareth College Center for Public History and a Storyteller in Residence at the SmallMatters Institute. Over the years, I have taught at Monroe Community College, the Rochester Institute of Technology and St. John Fisher College. I have published numerous Guest Essays, Letters, Book Reviews and Opinion pieces in The New York Times, Rochester Democrat and Chronicle, the Buffalo News, the Rochester Patriot, the Providence Journal, the Providence Business News, the Brown Alumni Magazine, the New London Day, the Boston Herald, the Messenger Post Newspapers, the Wedge, the Empty Closet, the CITY, Lake Affect Magazine and Brighton Connections. My poetry appears in The Criterion: An International Journal in English and Rundenalia and my academic writing in War, Literature and the Arts and Twentieth Century Literary Criticism. Starting in February 2013, I wrote for three Democratic and Chronicle  blogs, "Make City Schools Better," "Unite Rochester," and the "Editorial Board." When my tenure at the D & C  ended, I wanted to continue conversations first begun there. And start new ones.  So we created this new space, Talker of the Town, where all are invited to join. I don’t like to say these posts are “mine.” Very few of them are the sole product of my sometimes overheated imagination. Instead, I call them partnerships and collaborations. Or as they say in education, “peer group work.” Talker of the Town might better be Talkers of the Town. The blog won’t thrive without your leads, text, pictures, ideas, facebook shares, tweets, comments and criticisms.


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