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Sanctuary City?

Burlington, Vermont - May 2, 2006

Mayor Bob Kiss wants to see Burlington become a "sanctuary city" to provide a safe place for undocumented immigrants to work and live without fear of deportation.

Demonstrators welcomed the announcement from Burlington's new mayor.

"I hope we can move forward to become a sanctuary city in the United States of America," said Mayor Kiss, a progressive from Burlington.

With an immigration reform protest as his backdrop, Mayor Kiss told supporters he planned to make the Queen City a so-called "sanctuary city," too.

It means a policy could be adopted calling for city employees, including police officers, not to report illegal aliens to the federal authorities.

"If we can help them build a better life I think we should do that," said Mayor Kiss. "It really is at the beginning. But it's timely and issues being discussed across the country encourage us to look at this carefully as well."

Mayor Kiss instructed the city's lawyer to investigate the feasibility of such a move.

Currently, police are required to report undocumented workers to immigration authorities. A duty Burlington Police officers say will continue regardless of whether the city adopts sanctuary status.

"We contact border patrol and immigration and customs for overstays or violation of working papers or illegal entries," said Deputy Chief Walt Decker, of the Burlington Police Dept. "We are bound to uphold federal regulations and to make those reports to those agencies."

Thousands of illegal aliens reportedly work in Vermont -- many in fields and on farms. Immigrant advocates argue they do important work that Americans don't want to do. And supporters of the sanctuary-city-idea say it will enable those immigrants to be more productive members of society. For example -- they can report crimes without fear of deportation.

"It's not necessarily protection," said Mayor Kiss. "Sanctuary status doesn't effect criminal issues. If someone commits a crime, they still suffer the penalties."

But others worry -- if you build it, they will come. Saying a sanctuary city would open the flood gates for illegal aliens in Vermont.

Mayor Kiss dismisses those claims.

"I wouldn't see it as a magnet city," he said.

Other sanctuary cities in the U.S. offer public services and benefits to illegal aliens. Mayor Kiss says it might be done without using city money -- relying on non-profits and other agencies instead. That still raises cost concerns.

"Our city like many others struggles financially to deal with services we provide now," said Deputy Chief Decker. "Anything that might encourage people to move to our city, who might also be within a social need category, needs to factor in where are the resources once they get here."

The city attorney is investigating the potential costs too. And the Mayor says making Burlington a sanctuary city would need to be okayed by the city council.

There are quite a few "sanctuary cities" in the U.S. -- including Los Angeles and Denver, Colorado. Each city is run differently. So, Mayor Kiss is confident Burlington will figure out a way to make it work without breaking any laws.

Darren Perron - Channel 3 News

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