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Is Westport a Sanctuary Town?

Rachel Suggs, Issue Editor-in-Chief

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Spinners and slime are not the only things currently taking the world by storm. Sanctuary cities and sanctuary towns have also gained a lot of prevalence recently, it seems, especially with the Trump administration pushing its controversial stance on immigration.

The current White House administration, including the Attorney General, has threatened sanctuary towns and sanctuary cities across the country with taking away their funding if they do not deport undocumented immigrants. The Ursus staff wondered how Westport was affiliated with sanctuary towns, if even at all.

In general, a sanctuary town is a city or town which permits residence by undocumented immigrants to help them avoid deportation.

However, Chief Foti Koskinas, the Chief of Police for Westport, Conn., defines a sanctuary town as something with no definition. “There is no true definition of a sanctuary town. It’s very subjective. I think people apply the rules in different ways, and I think everybody tries to be politically correct and throws the term out.” He also says, “It is very subjective because towns will just label themselves as such without changing a lot.” When it comes to Westport, Chief Koskinas is quick to announce that it is absolutely not a sanctuary town. However, Chief Koskinas points out that not being a sanctuary town does not mean we are hostile towards immigrants.

“In the last seven days the Westport Police Department responded to two very serious crimes. Both times the victims were undocumented immigrants. Both times, the Westport Police Department not only treated them the way we would treat everybody else, but we encouraged them to give a statement, recieve medical treatment, and we gave them all their victims advocate cards. And at no time in the scope of the duties of the Westport police officers that encountered these two individuals, was it even an option or an alternative for them to contact immigration and report them.”

He says that the Westport Police Deprtment would not deport a law-abiding undocumented immigrant, saying, “That’s not what the Westport Police Department is… that’s not what we do, and that’s the misconception out there…The rules of the police department are to work within our communities, and we are well aware that our community is made up of undocumented immigrants.”

So, it sounds like Westport is actually a sanctuary town. In fact, 53.33 percent of eighth graders surveyed think that Westport is already a sanctuary town. However, Chief Koskinas also points out that we are not one officially. “In total transparency, if federal immigration comes in here looking for a criminal, we would certainly assist,” and he also goes on to say that he would speak out about not becoming a sanctuary town, because,

“The truth of the matter is I feel like we crossed a line a little bit with ‘sanctuary,’ as far as actually protecting the criminal. So if I am sitting here and giving my word to a resident that the Westport Police Department is not going to discriminate against undocumented immigrants… that is okay.””

— Foti Koskinas

But on the other hand, if they are criminals and we are not going to do anything about it? I don’t know how that really applies to our legal system because at that point we are picking and choosing what rules we will apply, and that is sort of a slippery slope… it becomes an injustice to the system.”

Chief Koskinas is not alone in not wanting Westport to become a sanctuary town. “I do not think Westport should become a sanctuary town, because then it would be harder for the police to do their job. They wouldn’t feel as free to question someone they thought might be dangerous because they are a minority,¨ says eighth grader Dane Lederer.

While this student does not think Westport should become a sanctuary town, others disagree. Eighth grader Miranda Rodriguez says, “I would feel more welcome if Westport were to become a sanctuary town because, as a Latina, I would feel more equal to people.” She also says, “I got a negative energy from Westport right from the start when I first came here. I think becoming a sanctuary town will make that experience better for other people of my race in the future.”

So the majority of people who think Westport should become a sanctuary town think that way because they are looking for equality and a congenial environment towards everybody. However, Chief Koskinas points out that that is already the case. “The Westport Police Department is not out there saying, ‘Oh my God, Hispanic– check him!’ We do not run immigration checks. Right now, if somebody got stopped and they are Hispanic, we run a license check, we don’t run to see if they are documented or undocumented, we just run to see if they have a license.”

Also in terms of town-wide acceptance, Chief Koskinas says, “The best way I can describe it is that if you are a good person, you are a law-abiding citizen in the sense that you live here not that you are an American citizen…we are not here to not assist that person, and to not offer every service to them at the same level as we would anybody else.”

Dr. Colleen Palmer, superintendent of schools for the town of Westport, responded to how undocumented immigrants affect school enrollment. She answered directly, “If a student lives here, we educate them, it is as simple as that.”

So in the big picture, Westport walks the walk, so to speak, and embodies the philosophy of a sanctuary town in the sense that it is fair to everybody, it does not discriminate against anyone because of their race, and it educates anyone that lives in this town regardless of their documentation in America.

However, Westport does cooperate with the federal government, and it will not go against the enforcement of the national law if the need should transpire. So there is no future of Westport declaring itself a sanctuary town, but one would hope that Westport residents would still be congenial and hospitable towards everybody, regardless of what they look like, what language they speak, or where they come from. And in the words of Chief Koskinas, “The big picture is be fair to everybody.”

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Is Westport a Sanctuary Town?