- The Washington Times - Sunday, May 7, 2006

CAMBRIDGE, Mass. (AP) — This famously liberal city is serving notice that illegal aliens are welcome, even while Congress is considering tough new penalties. Police won’t harass you. Education and health care are available.

Here’s the hitch: You probably can’t afford to live here.

In 1985, when Cambridge first declared itself a “sanctuary city,” rent control kept apartments affordable.

Today, however, Cambridge no longer has rent control; cheap apartments were turned into luxury condominiums, and the city — home of Harvard University and Massachusetts Institute of Technology — is among the most expensive places to live in the United States. The average rent for a one-bedroom apartment is $1,400 a month.

So, while the city renews its open-arms declaration — as other U.S. cities are doing — it’s not exactly a magnet for new immigrants, particularly illegal ones.

“Like anybody else, we look for places we can afford,” said Elena Letona, a naturalized citizen from El Salvador and executive director of Centro Presente, a Cambridge nonprofit that spearheaded the 1980s sanctuary effort and is backing the new push.

The Cambridge City Council is set to vote today to reaffirm its sanctuary status, which instructs police and other agencies not to inquire about a person’s immigration status when providing government services. The proposal would establish an immigrant rights and citizenship commission to “ensure the equal status of immigrants in education, employment, health care, housing, political, social and legal spheres.”

Portuguese and Brazilian markets and restaurants still dot a section of Cambridge Street, but locals say there are fewer immigrants — legal or otherwise — in recent years.

“Now, everybody’s moving north,” toward New Hampshire, said Goao Cafua, taking a break while slicing fish at Fernandes Market. “The housing is cheaper.”

Mr. Cafua, 56, who, like most Portuguese here, hails from the Azores islands, bought a home in Lawrence, an industrial city about 30 miles north of Boston.

Immigrants make up slightly more than 14 percent of the Bay State’s roughly 6 million residents, excluding the estimated 200,000 illegal aliens. There are an estimated 10 million to 12 million illegal aliens nationwide.

Some people think the city’s sanctuary policy is a waste of time.

“What’s the point? Why invite people? The only people who can afford to live here are graduate students whose parents are paying their rent,” John Murphy, 46, said while visiting the city’s Central Square neighborhood, where he lived for 20 years before moving to Austin, Texas. “It’s creating false hope.”

But the movement has sparked a backlash. In Phoenix, a group called Protect Our City is collecting signatures for a ballot initiative to require police cooperation with federal immigration authorities.

An “anti-sanctuary” bill signed into law last week in Colorado would deny state funds to cities that discourage or prevent police from working with federal immigration authorities.

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