By Martin Kidston
A Missoula man has launched a grassroots campaign urging the City Council to declare Missoula a sanctuary city, saying immigration is not a policy, but rather it’s part of the nation’s fabric.
Geoff Easton, a Missoula native, said the status as a sanctuary city would go far in combating what he sees as a rising tide of hate brought on by the nation’s newly elected president, Donald Trump.
“President-elect Trump has announced plans to deport millions of undocumented people living within our country,” Easton said. “Many of these people are just like you and me, trying to raise a family, pay bills, pay taxes, and create a better life than the one they left.”
Easton didn’t mince words when describing his views of the nation’s new president, at one point calling Trump a “racist demagogue” who stands contrary to the nation’s longstanding values.
From all corners of the globe, Easton said, America is viewed as a place of freedom, opportunity and “a democracy of many.” Immigration is not a policy, he added, but rather “it’s who we are.”
“The city of Missoula and you, our elected leaders, have the opportunity to make a powerful statement in support of these people who are trying to get what we often take for granted – a chance at the American dream,” Easton told members of the council.
More than 30 cities across the country have adopted sanctuary status including large metros, from New York and Los Angeles, to smaller cities like Tuscon, Arizona, and Santa Anna, California.
Several mayors have said they will defy any Trump deportation order and remain a sanctuary city, including Chicago and Boston, where Mayor Marty Walsh said his city won’t compromise its values under a Trump presidency.
Of the nation’s 31 sanctuary cites, 13 are located in the West.
“This is a group we should join,” Easton said. “It’s a real tangible way to combat the rise of hate in our country.”
By definition, a sanctuary city is one that adopts local policies that avoid prosecuting someone solely for being an undocumented individual. The term generally applies to cities that do not direct municipal funds or resources to enforce national immigration laws.
That includes policies that forbid local police officers or municipal employees from inquiring about one’s immigration status. Trump has threatened to cancel all federal funding to sanctuary cities on his first day in office, scheduled for Jan. 20, 2017.
“The president-elect has threatened to cut off funds to all 31 sanctuary cities in the U.S.” Easton said. “This is an empty threat, as no rational person can assume that cutting off aid to our biggest metropolitan areas is politically feasible.”
Easton’s grassroots push to add Missoula to the nation’s ranks of sanctuary cities came with quick and harsh criticism from some local conservatives, including Kandi Matthew Jenkins.
Jenkins, a regular opponent of nearly everything the Missoula City Council does, said she was “appalled” by Easton’s suggestion.
“Missoula has become part of a psycho-political operation, and what I’ve just heard hurts this country all together,” Jenkins said. “America has the right to close its borders to people coming here that aren’t legal, many who cause crimes. I am appalled that anyone in Missoula would want to become a sanctuary city.”
Jenkins’ son, John, was more direct in his criticism of Easton and his campaign.
“Geoff Easton, how dare you call the newly elected president a quote, ‘racist demagogue,’ ” John Jenkins said. “Becoming a sanctuary city would send an important message? Apparently you didn’t get the message, Mr. Easton, because millions of American voters of all races, including immigrants, voted for a different policy that respects our borders and our laws.”
The city has taken no action on Easton’s campaign, though on Facebook, the reaction was mixed. Many supported Easton’s efforts and promised to join him in persuading the city take action. Others, however, did not.
“You sir are a fucking liberal idiot!” one man wrote.
In reply, Easton wrote, “Let’s be clear on one thing: I’m not a fucking liberal idiot. I’m fucking socialist idiot.”
Contact reporter Martin Kidston at firstname.lastname@example.org