An Interview with Julia Griffin

Editor’s Note: In light of the recent week’s meeting regarding the potential designation of Hanover as a  sanctuary city, we sat down with Hanover’s town manager Julia Griffin to discuss various aspects of this resolution.

The Dartmouth Review (TDR): What kind of work and changes would go into making Hanover a sanctuary city?

Julia Griffin (JG): There isn’t much work involved, if you look at what other communities have done. A town meeting on May 9 would debate this and vote for or against the establishment of Hanover as a sanctuary city. When you look at what other sanctuary cities across the country have done or are doing, typically all it involves is the development of a written set of policies that guide the way the community interacts with immigrants and refugees, both the police departments interactions but also general community interaction. It’s not as if when you vote to become a sanctuary community, you suddenly have to absorb a whole body of regulations or policies. There isn’t a blueprint out there. It’s really up to each community to decide how they want to articulate the fact that they have declared themselves a sanctuary community.

TDR: How did this idea first come about within Hanover’s town management?

JG: As soon as I heard about the Trump Administration’s inclination related to illegal immigrants, I began anticipating that this was an issue we were going to have to grapple with here because we have an internationally diverse campus community. I was first approached in December by our Friends meeting; the Quakers have long been active in the area of immigration, and the local Friends house has been very active in issues of immigration in the past. They approached me to talk about sanctuary community designation. I spent a fair amount of time reading up on the sanctuary movement and also conferring with some of my fellow colleagues, other municipal managers in New England. We actively talked to each other about what other communities are hearing, thinking about, and considering with regards to this issue.

A welcome sign to Hanover, NH.

A welcome sign to Hanover, NH.

TDR: If this decision were made, what changes or policies would Hanover ultimately implement? In other words, what tangible changes would occur?

JG: There actually would not be any changes. That was the point I made to the group that gathered on Wednesday, February 22 at St. Thomas Episcopal Church. We used that time to talk about the fact that we already are, on most levels, a sanctuary community, if you look at what the current definition of sanctuary community is. For example, our police department does not in any way get involved with immigration issues. We don’t inquire as to an individual’s immigration status when we do a motor vehicle stop, arrest, or if we’re dealing with a victim or a witness who is reporting a crime. Asking immigration status isn’t a part of our procedure and the reason it isn’t is that immigration law is civil law, not criminal law.

Police departments do not enforce civil laws; they only enforce criminal laws. Hanover Police Department doesn’t play a role in immigration enforcement now, nor do we have any interest in doing so. One of the questions that came up was that it’s always conceivable that the federal government, either via an executive order or a change in federal law, could articulate the requirement that local law enforcement become extensions of the immigration and customs enforcement, but you would see states and communities pushing back legally, saying that civil law is not criminal law, and we have no role. So we are just not involved at all on immigration issues. The counties, however, are more likely to be involved because they host the jails. If you look at what counties are doing around the nation, there are some counties that have adopted sanctuary county policies, there are other counties that have already actively entered into “287G Agreements” with ICE to become extensions of immigrations and customs enforcement; it varies widely from county to county across the United States. It would not be unusual for an individual who might be arrested at the local level and processed and transported up to the county jail for incarceration for the county to be involved in inquiring into their immigration status. Grafton County is an entity that would have more cooperation with ICE, but we do not. Just because we would take the action of formalizing our classification as a sanctuary city doesn’t mean that we would suddenly have a whole new set of policies to implement, because we’re already abiding by that approach.

TDR: What would the benefits be of making Hanover a sanctuary city? What would the drawbacks or consequences be?

JG: As I interacted with this group on February 22 (there were probably 50 or 60 people there), I would say it was 50% Dartmouth students, faculty, and staff, and the other 50% community residents; it wasn’t exclusively a Dartmouth gathering. I saw a lot of anxiety and concern in the room. There were some people there who were directly affected as immigrants and refugees. I think what they clearly articulated is that the declaration of a community as a sanctuary sends a clear message to your residents that you stand for those principles. To do anything less than that means it may be less than clear what your principles are. I absolutely hear that, but the only thing that I worry about when you undertake the official declaration, they’re suddenly in the spotlight that the Trump Administration tends to thrust on communities that act in disagreement with the policies of the administration. What I hate to see is federal funding for Dartmouth threatened by the declaration of ourselves as a sanctuary city. Chances are that threat from the Trump Administration would not hold up in a court of law, but knowing that any college or university campus is significantly dependent on federal funding, I don’t want to take that matter lightly.

TDR: How does the process of becoming a sanctuary city differ in Hanover’s case in comparison with how it would work in larger cities, for example Chicago or New York?

JG: We are a town, and towns operate under a different set of regulations than cities do. Obviously we operate very differently from a major metropolitan area, but fundamentally, unless a city makes a conscious decision to be actively involved in some way in immigration work, you don’t typically see cities performing immigration functions. The only change in practice you might observe is that some communities may more readily call ICE when they’re dealing with an individual who is either undocumented or an immigrant who has committed a crime. There was a feature on NHPR recently contrasting the town of Salem, NH with the city of Nashua. They share a border. Those two communities police somewhat differently. Nashua, which is very ethnically diverse and hosts a lot of refugees, does not work with ICE at all unless they’re dealing with a major felony committed by an undocumented individual. Salem regularly interacts with ICE. The program interviews the two police chiefs, doing a comparison, and what that show reveals is that it’s very much an individual police department and community decision. I do think that the whole sanctuary discussion and the shifts that are happening at the federal level are probably provoking more communities to do some introspection and say, “Okay, wait a minute, this is what we’re doing now, do we want to do that consciously, or do we want to revise our practices with respect to our interaction with ICE?” I know that in cities and towns across the nation communities are having these conversations. We haven’t really thought about it proactively before because there hasn’t been such a spotlight on this issue as we’re seeing right now. But from Hanover’s perspective, our practice has never been to be involved in an inquiry on somebody’s immigrant, refugee, or undocumented alien status, nor do we intend to move in that direction. Practically, we don’t have the resources, and also, we’re a community with a lot of international diversity because of the College and the medical center. Our police chief feels very strongly that we need to be a community where every single person who lives here feels comfortable interacting with the police, and what we don’t want to do is create a climate of fear amongst individuals from outside the US that would discourage them from calling the police whenever they need assistance. Part of community policing is being sensitive to the needs of your residents and recognizing that we’re not going to be involved in civil law enforcement in this community.

TDR: Is there anything in the works for Hanover to respond if there’s a pushback from defying the federal law enforcement regulations?

JG: Not yet. It’s not like we’ve strategized how we’re going to be defiant in the face of federal regulations that we disagree with. I think that our approach right now is simply to say, “From our perspective, immigration law is civil law, our police department does not enforce civil law, we don’t have any interest in being expected to take on the role of enforcing civil law, we focus our policing around the needs of our community, and we need to be mindful of the needs of our non-US citizens who are here and a part of our community.”

TDR: One criticism of this proposal is that the legal issues inherent in becoming a sanctuary city, coupled with the fact that Hanover is a small, remote town, would result in any action only having symbolic value. Is this criticism valid?

JG: I think it is. Let’s face it: Hanover is not ever going to be the epicenter of immigration enforcement actions. This has many more significant implications for communities along the border with Mexico and communities in the southeastern part of the United States that may be dealing with refugees coming in with places like Cuba, and the major metropolitan areas which tend to see a larger influx of immigrants from central America, from Africa, from the Middle East. For rural New Hampshire, we don’t see a large influx of undocumented aliens in our community. What we’re seeing are faculty, staff, students, and others who come here either to get an education or to work in conjunction with the College, the medical center, or our major employers. 99.9% of the time these folks are documented, and in the case of the DACA students who are attending Dartmouth, the Trump Administration has indicated this is not a group they are interested in targeting. I can only imagine those students are nervous, but for now, we’d like to think they can go about continuing to get their education here. This is more symbolic than anything else, but interestingly enough, the other group of individuals that are out there in our community are those folks who are here as foreign nationals with valid visas who may not be able to go home for fear they won’t be able to get back in to the US. For example, you can have a student from any one of the seven countries [with restricted immigration under President Trump’s recent executive order] who is here on an appropriate visa to study at Dartmouth, and all they want to do is go home for break, but they may not feel they can because they may not be able to get back into the US, given what’s tending to happen now in terms of TSA and immigration looking at foreigners trying to come back into the country. You have a whole group of folks who are sort of in immigration limbo, who are here legitimately but can’t go home again, because going home again means they can’t return. We just don’t know how many people are feeling in immigration limbo, even though they’re here legitimately.

TDR: Where are we seeing the support for this decision? Is it primarily amongst students, or permanent residents of Hanover?

JG: Definitely a mix. I initially heard from the Friends, but very shortly thereafter, started hearing from a wide range of residents – not students and not all faculty, but also just local residents who began emailing me to ask if we had considered sanctuary designation. In part, their interest was prompted by the fact that there was press attention now focused on other communities that were taking the step to become official sanctuary communities. Every time a new story ran about this issue, inquiries would bubble up through my email, but it’s been an interesting broad spectrum of folks. It hasn’t just been Dartmouth-affiliated. I wasn’t contacted by students until just last week when one of the co-founders of the Upper Valley Coalition came to speak with me.

TDR: What was that conversation like?

JG: She really wanted to know what our thoughts were on sanctuary, and I literally walked her through what I just walked you through. She mentioned that the group was meeting on February 22, and asked if I would be willing to come and share with them the same perspective I shared with her, and I said “Yes, and let me bring the police chief.” Sometimes folks are less anxious when they can hear an actual representative of their law enforcement agency talking about what we don’t do now. Charlie Dennis did a great job of answering lots of questions, like “What if I’m a student from another country who is detained for drinking alcohol underage?” The rumor is police officers are stopping people for a broken taillight or an alcohol violation, and next thing you know, that person is deported. Charlie was able to let them know that first of all, underage consumption of alcohol is a violation, not a misdemeanor or felony, it’s not an offense that warrants an arrest. It yields a court appearance or diversion, but no, you don’t have to worry that if you’re caught drinking underage that it could lead to deportation. There were lots of questions like that from the audience that were very specific, and I hope that folks found it helpful to hear from the police chief what they don’t need to worry about, because there’s a lot of rumors out there online, in casual conversation, wherever, and we’re trying to do our best to debunk myths.

TDR: Is there anything else you’d like to add regarding the gathering at St. Thomas Church on February 22?

JG: The only thing I urged the group to consider was scheduling a meeting with our counterparts in the county – the county sheriff, county attorney – because I think it behooves this group to understand the role the county does play. Every county sheriff’s department is a little bit different, so I thought it’d be helpful to understand from that perspective, what interaction the sheriff’s department has with ICE. We reminded them that when we arrest somebody, we process them at the Hanover Police Department, but they’re then transported immediately to the Grafton County House of Corrections, where they are jailed. That’s where you could see potential for more interaction between the jail staff and ICE. I’m hoping the group will avail themselves of that advice and schedule a meeting with the Grafton County sheriff and attorney to talk about what the county’s doing.

TDR: Is there anything else you’d like to add?

JG: The only thing I would add, I also I offered it on Wednesday night, is that anyone who has a concern about this and needs to be better informed as to what we’re doing now should feel free to reach out to us, because we want to help as many people as possible understand what our current practice is.