Councillors pass resolutions condemning child marriage in Mass. and allowing Haitians to apply for asylum
The Malden City Council waded into international “waters” for the first time in recent memory at Tuesday night’s regular meeting. The members also weighed in on a statewide issue, acting on a request from a Malden-based community organization. The result was the passage of a pair of City Council resolutions, both centered on human rights issues.
One of the resolutions came following a request from the Zonta of Malden organization. Following an appearance by a representative of Zonta during the public comment section and some additional remarks from Ward 3 Councillor Amanda Linehan and others, the City Council voted unanimously, 10-0, to approve the following:
Resolve: That we, the Malden City Council strongly condemn the abusive practice of child marriage in Massachusetts. Further, that we indicate our support for state-level legislation currently under consideration to ban legal marriage in Massachusetts, for the protection of human rights, dignity, and opportunity for all young people, especially young women who are disproportionately impacted by child marriage laws.
In a second vote, one of the few times the City Council has officially weighed in on a national/international issue, the Councillors voted, 8-2, to support the following: BE IT RESOLVED, That the Malden City Council calls for the federal government to reverse the Title 42 determination and immediately halt the deportation of Haitian migrants, thereby allowing them to seek due process through our legal system to make claims for legal status.
Status of Haitians trying to enter U.S. was second resolution
The successful resolution on Haitians’ status was sponsored by two of the three new members of the City Council this year: Councillors-at-Large Karen Colón Hayes and Carey McDonald. Councillor McDonald spoke in favor on the floor for the resolution. Councillor Hayes was not in attendance Tuesday night.
On the condemnation of child marriage in Massachusetts, Councillor Linehan, one of four original sponsors of the resolution, said, “I was horrified and could not believe this was still on the books in Massachusetts when [members of] Zonta brought this to me. Most states have changed their laws and are against this. We are outliers and we must take this step as well.”
Ward 7 resident Michelle Luong, a member of the Zonta Club of Malden and a former Malden School Committee member, spoke in favor of the resolution during the public comment segment of the City Council meeting. “Each of you have pledged to protect children in the course of your responsibilities as City Councillors,” said Luong, herself a candidate for City Council in November’s election. “In the past year a 12-year-old and a 13-year-old girl have been married to older men and in Massachusetts alone 55 girls age 15 or younger were married to older men.”
Luong asked the councillors to support the resolve on Tuesday’s docket and for them and their ward and citywide constituents to contact State Representatives Steven Ultrino (D-Malden), Paul Donato (D-Malden, Medford) and Kate Lipper-Garabedian D-Malden, Melrose, Wakefield) as well as State Senator Jason Lewis (D-5th Middlesex) to express their condemnation of the child marriage practice.
Zonta International active against child marriage worldwide since 2014
Zonta International, to which the Zonta Club of Malden belongs, has supported ending child marriage since 2014, contributing $2 million to delay early marriage in Niger from 2014-2018. From 2018-2020, Zonta contributed 2 million to the UNFPA-UNICEF Global Program to End Child Marriage – the first private-sector donor to the Global Program.
“It’s amazing this [child marriage] is still happening. This would have been inappropriate 100 years ago – let alone today,” Ward 6 Councillor Stephen Winslow said. “To have young girls 12 or 13 being forced into marriage is simply abuse.”
Before the unanimous vote was taken in favor of the resolution, the other six councillors, in addition to the original sponsors – Councillors Linehan, Winslow, Colón Hayes (at-Large) and Ryan O’Malley (Ward 4) – all signed on as cosponsors.
McDonald: movement to rescind Title 42 growing regionally, nationally
Councillor McDonald said the resolution he cosponsored with Councillor Colón Hayes – calling for the ceasing of federal deportations of Haitians at the U.S.-Mexico border by denying application for asylum – is “a big issue with the Haitian community [in Malden].”
According to the last U.S. Census in 2020, of Malden’s total population of 66,352, approximately 9,350 residents are Black (14.1%) and over 30% (over 3,000) are of Haitian descent.
Councillor McDonald said there is a growing movement both regionally and statewide to get behind a push toward the administration of President Joe Biden to rescind the Title 42 regulation, which originated under former President Donald Trump, which denies Haitians at the Mexico and Texas border the opportunity to seek/apply for asylum in the United States.
Title 42 expulsions are removals by the U.S. government of persons who have recently been in a country where a communicable disease was present. The extent of authority for contagion-related expulsions is set out by law in 42 U.S.C. § 265. During the COVID-19 pandemic, the Trump Administration used this provision (section 265) to generally block land entry for many migrants, particularly a large number of Haitians seeking asylum/entry to the United States. The program has been continued by the Biden Administration.
Two other Councillors, Paul Condon (Ward 2) and Craig Spadafora (City Council President, at-Large), spoke against the resolution. Three Councillors, aside from McDonald, spoke in favor of it.
“Isn’t this a federal issue?” asked Councillor Condon. “We’re the Malden City Council. Where does this go if we vote for this? What would this solve?”
Councillor McDonald responded, “Alone? This would affect nothing at all. We want to send this to our federal lawmakers (Congresswoman Katherine Clark, U.S. Senators Ed Markey and Elizabeth Warren) as part of an aligned strategy.”
Condon: ‘I’m not in favor of open borders’
“I understand it’s a problem, but we shouldn’t be allowing anyone into the country who is not prepared to go on a direct route for citizenship. Everyone should be vetted,” Councillor Condon said.
“Some of those people who are trying to cross the borders in Mexico, I hope they aren’t allowed in this country,” Councillor Condon added. “I’m not in favor of open borders and I’m not in favor of accepting everyone into this country. That’s why you vet people.”
Ward 6 Councillor Stephen Winslow differed. “We should remove this unnecessary barrier for allowing Haitians into this country,” he said. “Here in Malden we welcomed thousands of Haitians into our city and our schools after the  Haitian earthquake.
“Here in Malden, the Haitian people who have come here have been a wonderful addition to our population,” Councillor Winslow said.
“There is a really powerful case being made from the Haitian community affected to support this,” said Councillor Linehan. “There has been a misapplication of public health data. They can’t make the case this [denying asylum applications] is tied to the pandemic anymore.”
O’Malley: ‘They’re not asking for special treatment’
“These people aren’t asking for special treatment,” Councillor O’Malley said, in support of the resolution. “All they’re asking for is a return to U.S. and international law as it was applied before the pandemic.”
Ward 7 Councillor Chris Simonelli asked if the Malden-based resolution could be amended to include all people seeking asylum, not just Haitians. Councillor McDonald agreed to do so.
City Council President Spadafora said he was not in favor of the resolution because “We’re not out of COVID yet. Basically, this resolution is having us tell the federal government, ‘We don’t believe your [public health] data.”
“I believe in asylum… but I believe in scientific data and I believe in public health. I am not against people from Haiti – or a lot of other places around the world – trying to enter the country, but I do not support going against a federal law designed to protect public health,” Councillor Spadafora added.
The resolution passed, 8-2, with Councillors McDonald, Linehan, Winslow and O’Malley joined by Councillors Peg Crowe (Ward 1), Barbara Murphy (Ward 5), Simonelli and Jadeane Sica (Ward 8) voting in favor, with Condon and Spadafora voting against.