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2 Mass. Towns Challenge Trump's Executive Order On Sanctuary Cities


Next we travel to a city of immigrants, Chelsea, Mass. Its factories attracted Europeans in the 19th century. It's now mostly Hispanic, and close to a quarter of the population lives below the poverty line. Now this small city is suing the federal government because of a move by the Trump administration. Shannon Dooling reports from our member station WBUR.

SHANNON DOOLING, BYLINE: Beyond its lean budget and blue collar history, Chelsea is also a so-called sanctuary city. That unofficial designation is what ultimately prompted the lawsuit. The suit challenges the constitutionality of President Trump's executive order threatening to pull federal funding from sanctuary cities, places where local law enforcement don't ask about an individual's immigration status and may not fully comply with federal immigration agents. In Chelsea, the act of suing the federal government is just as much about protecting residents as it is about protecting federal dollars.

At Amazonia Jeans on Broadway, Chelsea shop owner Fatima Ortiz talks to a few customers. Business has been slow ever since the election. Ortiz says 90 percent of her clientele are Hispanic, and right now many of them aren't leaving their homes. They're afraid of being swept up in deportation raids.

FATIMA ORTIZ: The only place that's busy right now is the post office. Everybody is getting the passport for the kids. They are ready to leave in the moment that they have to leave.

DOOLING: Broadway is lined with stores like Sabor Latino, Campeon Soccer and Mi Salvador Mexicano, all reflections of a diverse community. But Ortiz says that sense of community may be at risk.

ORTIZ: It's impossible to feel normal, like, because there's no people around. Like, everybody's scared to go out. And it's very, very difficult.

IVAN ESPINOZA-MADRIGAL: These cities and the people living in these communities have rights.

DOOLING: Ivan Espinoza-Madrigal is executive director of the Lawyers' Committee for Civil Rights and Economic Justice, the group representing Chelsea and nearby Lawrence in the lawsuit. He says these cash-strapped cities can't afford to lose federal money.

ESPINOZA-MADRIGAL: It would mean the closure of schools. It would mean firing city workers. It would mean destabilizing entire communities and disrupting families.

DOOLING: No city has actually lost any funding yet. Federal officials wouldn't comment for this piece, but U.S. Attorney General Jeff Sessions has said Department of Justice dollars may be especially vulnerable in sanctuary cities. He called on local leaders to fully cooperate with the federal government in the interest of public safety. Larger metros like San Francisco and Seattle also filed lawsuits. All of the briefs make the same basic arguments, calling the stripping of funding an unconstitutional breach of state's rights. Chelsea City Manager Thomas Ambrosino says financial resources are not the only thing at stake.

THOMAS AMBROSINO: Our residents are fearful. And we felt it was important to send a message that the city of Chelsea was in the business of trying to protect the people who live here regardless of your immigration or documentation status.

DOOLING: The federal government claims the city has acted prematurely and that they can't prove they've been harmed by the mere existence of the executive order. For NPR News, I'm Shannon Dooling in Boston.

(SOUNDBITE OF TRISTEZA'S "MISSOULA") Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Shannon Dooling