Cambridge, Mass. — The home of Harvard University has joined the home of the University of California at Berkeley and other cities in refusing to help federal officials track down illegal Central American refugees. But a spokesman for the US Immigration and Naturalization Service (INS) says such policies will have little effect on that agency's enforcement of federal immigration laws. Indeed, officials in Cambridge, Chicago, Berkeley, and other cities involved admit as much themselves.
In a 5-to-4 vote, the Cambridge City Council Monday night declared its community ``a city of sanctuary'' for Central American and Haitian refugees. Madison, Wis., and St. Paul, Minn., have adopted similar resolutions.
Duke Austin, spokesman for the INS, says the measure is merely a ``political statement'' that will have little impact.
City Councilor Saundra Graham acknowledges that the order won't change federal policy. But she says it sends a message to the federal government:
``Don't use us to do your dirty work'' in tracking down illegal aliens.
Chicago Mayor Harold Washington recently denied access to public facilities and city records to the INS. The action was taken after a number of taxi drivers, most of them from Africa, were arrested and deported. At the same time it was discovered that INS agents stationed in city buildings had been confronting suspected aliens seeking city jobs or services and demanding to see their identification.
And officials in San Jose, Calif., have discontinued cooperation with the INS in immigration cases involving those seeking sanctuary from oppression in Central America.
The Cambridge measure states that ``to the extent legally possible,'' no department or employee will assist federal officials in investigating ``alleged violations of immigration law by refugees from El Salvador, Guatemala, or Haiti,'' or by those offering sanctuary. In addition, city employees are barred from inquiring into the citizenship status of any city resident.
In practical terms, schooling, hospitalization, and other social services will be available to all Cambridge residents without regard to their citizenship, and city police will not voluntarily aid in tracking down aliens or those helping them. City attorney Russell Higbee says no state or federal laws require city authorities to aid the INS.
The Reagan administration maintains that many of the Central Americans entering the US illegally are ``economic'' refugees, not political ones.
But in a three-hour public hearing prior to the vote, speakers, including three Salvadoreans, described what they said were repressive conditions in their countries.
Opponents of the resolution, such as City Councilor Walter J. Sullivan, say it might instill a feeling of ``false hope'' among refugees, when in fact the city can't offer any real protection from the INS. But supporters say refugees will understand the sense of the resolution and appreciate the message of solidarity.