Schenectady’s City Council plans to formally call on the federal government to enact comprehensive immigration reform, stopping short of spelling out policies that protect undocumented citizens.
The full council discussed for the first time Monday night how to best support the city’s immigrant population, after about 50 residents have in recent weeks urged leaders to declare Schenectady a sanctuary city. A block of four council members voted to move their resolution forward, declining to incorporate broader language from other council member's proposals.
“We can do resolution after resolution, but it’s not going to go nowhere until Congress acts,” said Councilman John Mootooveren, one of the members who co-sponsored the chosen resolution.
The council reviewed three resolutions Monday night, which members said served as "a starting point." Each proposal made clear varying levels of support for local immigrants, but none would actually change anything in the city’s laws.
Five council members ultimately expressed support for a resolution submitted two weeks ago by council members Ed Kosiur, Mootooveren, John Polimeni and Karen Zalewski-Wildzunas, all Democrats.
The document calls on Congress to enact federal immigration reform “in a humane manner that does not disrupt the lives of city residents.” It is crafted in the mold of a resolution from the United States Conference of Mayors, which was signed by Schenectady Mayor Gary McCarthy and the mayors of Albany, Rochester and Syracuse.
Councilman Vince Riggi, an Independent, said he felt the proposal “covers all the bases.”
City Council President Leesa Perazzo introduced “A Resolution proclaiming the City of Schenectady a Welcoming City,” while Councilwoman Marion Porterfield presented the “Fair and Welcoming City of Schenectady Resolution.”
Those two documents made broader statements of support for residents of all backgrounds, and stated that the city does not have a policy of asking about immigration status.
Perazzo said she would prefer to weave in some of the talking points raised in recent weeks rather than passing a “cookie-cutter resolution.”
“I would like to follow the lead of the Conference of Mayors,” Zalewski-Wildzunas said. “I think we covered everything we need to cover without going into anything that might put us in a situation where we’re breaking any laws.”
Perazzo and Porterfield, both Democrats, asked if those who drafted the other resolution felt it could be more inclusive of residents’ talking points.
“I think this is very inclusive,” Zalewski-Wildzunas responded.
Perazzo and Porterfield voiced frustration that the four council members who drafted the resolution were unwilling to incorporate pieces of their proposals, or public comments.
Making Schenectady a sanctuary city was never on the table Monday night or in recent weeks, despite pleas from a few dozen residents at regular council meetings.
The designation has no official definition, but generally means local police would not enforce federal immigration laws, leaving Immigration and Customs Enforcement agents to do the jobs themselves.
A half-dozen residents who spoke at previous meetings sat through Monday night’s committee meeting, where no public comments are allowed.
Robin Schnell, a Glenville resident who has said she’d eventually like to see Schenectady County become a sanctuary, said she was happy the council had the conversation, but was left with unanswered questions. For example, she wondered what the city would do if the federal government asked municipalities to make a registry of undocumented or minority citizens.
Local discussion about the issue should continue, she said, “especially in light of the conversation going on in the federal government.”