Miro Weinberger Wants To Formally Declare Burlington A 'Sanctuary City' For Immigrants

Nov 17, 2016

Burlington mayor Miro Weinberger says he wants to make the city a so-called "sanctuary city" for people who are in the United States illegally. That's even though Republican president-elect Donald Trump has vowed to strip all federal funding from cities that have policies to shelter or protect illegal immigrants from deportation.

Some big city mayors across the United States have been expressing their concern about the election of Republican Donald Trump. The policies of a Trump White House could affect everything from their dealings with immigration, to policing, to federal funding.

Now, the executive of Vermont's largest city, Burlington's Democratic Mayor Miro Weinberger, is weighing in.

VPR's Alex Keefe met with Weinberger at his city hall offices in Burlington Thursday to discuss what Weinberger had been hearing from the community and what role the city will play going forward.

VPR: I gather you've been hearing from a lot of Burlington residents since the election. When people call the city, what are they saying?

Weinberger: “Certainly, there's a lot of concern in the community. This is a city that voted overwhelmingly for Hillary Clinton and was hoping for a different outcome on election night. And I think it does leave the city with a lot of uncertainty about the future.

“What I want Burlingtonians to know, and what I particularly want the immigrants living in this community to know, is that you are living in the same Burlington today that you were living in before last Tuesday's election.

“And given that the incoming administration has made it very clear that they are looking at making changes in immigration policy, I want to make it abundantly clear that our intention is to keep following the practices that we have as a city for many years. And those practices are that we do not ask about immigration status when we are going about the business of providing municipal services, when we are doing our police work.

"What I want Burlingtonians to know, and what I particularly want the immigrants living in this community to know, is that you are living in the same Burlington today that you were living in before last Tuesday's elections." — Miro Weinberger, Mayor of Burlington

"We actually see it as unhelpful asking that question, in that it can negatively impact public safety and have sort of a chilling effect on the communities that we are working in, that we are policing. We haven't done that in a long time, we're not going to start doing it as a result of last week's election.”

President-elect Trump has talked a lot about so-called “sanctuary cities,” these are cities that offer some sheltering or protection to people who are here illegally. First, help us understand how Burlington is not officially a sanctuary city but there are some policies in place it sounds like that maybe fall under this umbrella?

“Yeah, that's right, that does surprise some people; They don't realize that this was a community conversation back in the 2000s. They’re not clear that we never took that formal step that some places have to declare itself a sanctuary city.

“Our practices have been consistent with cities that consider themselves sanctuary cities and what I think it is time for now given the uncertainty in the community is for us to take that step and to formalize our practices into policy. And I will be working with the city council and in the weeks ahead to do that.”

To make Burlington officially a sanctuary city?

“Yes … people use that term and it means different things to different people in different places. What it means here, in the Burlington context, is that we are going to continue to do what we have long done, which is as we go about our work as a city, as we provide municipal services, as we police in this community, we are not going ask about immigration status. We're going to continue that practice.”

The president-elect has said cities that are so-called “sanctuary cities” will lose federal funding. What does that look like for Burlington? How much how much money are we talking about here if that happen?

“So it's difficult to project what this administration, this incoming administration means. I think they're still sort of formulating how they're going to implement this.

“Our understanding under current federal law, the amount of federal dollars we’re talking about is modest. That is, federal funding that would be at risk under the way the current federal law is written if these policies we’re seen to be problematic.”

Philosophically, should it be the place of a local government to say, no, we're not going to cooperate with the federal government because we don't agree with its policies?

“I think what does make sense is for the city of Burlington to focus on how to best deliver its municipal services. And again we are not going to turn Burlington police, Burlington City officials into deputies of the federal government. That's not the way we're set up. We're going to do the job that is our job to do and that doesn't get into people's immigration status.”

Do you see other tangible concrete things that you worry about coming from a Trump administration that would affect the everyday dealings of city government and doling out city services?

“Yes, certainly from the rhetoric that candidate Trump had over the last year there’s numerous areas where one could be concerned. You know, certainly if he does pursue some policies that have been talked about — for example where we're trying to go with our police department — is very different than where I'm concerned he has suggested he wants to go.

“We believe in President Obama's 21st century policing. We believe in the need for reengineering the way we do policing in a way that respects all individuals, in a way that ensures a high level of trust between the communities that we're responsible for policing and we think that's where we get the best outcomes in terms of public safety. If we go in that direction — if President Trump take the country in a different direction that will be there'll be concerning.

"I guess the reason, in part, that I'm focusing on immigration is this is an area where I think already the impacts of the rhetoric that he has used as a candidate are impacting Burlingtonians — making Burlingtonians concerned about their future." — Miro Weinberger, Mayor of Burlington

"I guess the reason, in part, that I'm focusing on immigration is this is an area where I think already the impacts of the rhetoric that he has used as a candidate are impacting Burlingtonians — making Burlingtonians concerned about their future."

“I just want to go back and say again, to everyone living in Burlington — particularly immigrants — that you are still living in the same city today that you were living in before the election.”

How far are you, as the leader of the state's largest city, willing to go to defy those policies if they're enacted or to keep doing things the way you've been doing them here?

“We have a new incoming administration and like the president said, like Hillary Clinton has said, I think it's important that we give this new president the opportunity to to govern.

“And you know, I find it interesting this morning we're reading that there may be areas where a progressive vision of the future of the country could be potentially in-line with where the new administration wants to go. I'm encouraged by the reports of making new investment in infrastructure. There's talk of new child tax credits that could advance some of our early learning policies.

“There are certainly many reasons to be concerned. When the new administration moves forward and they do things that are in conflict with what Burlington is and the vision of Burlington, we will stand up to it and we will resist it. And we will use every lever that we can to ensure that Burlington remains the special place of this today.”