BOSTON — A bipartisan coalition of U.S. mayors called Friday for policies to curb gun violence and pledged to support immigrant communities as it kicked off a four-day gathering in Boston to tackle issues impacting cities.
At an opening news conference for the mayors' annual meeting, city leaders took repeated digs at the gridlock and divisiveness in Washington while touting their own effectiveness and ability to remain above the partisan fray.
The U.S. Conference of Mayors said it's joining the Major Cities Chiefs Association to pressure Congress into passing gun legislation like universal background checks for all firearm sales. Police Chief Art Acevedo of Houston, Texas, who joined the mayors at the meeting, said it's time to end what he described as a "public health epidemic."
"My question to those that say that nothing can be done, who are you standing with? The professionals, the leaders or the gun lobby?" Acevedo said.
More than 250 mayors are at the conference, which lasts through Monday. The mayors will also tackle issues like immigration, infrastructure and cybersecurity. Sheryl Sandberg, chief operating officer of Facebook, which is facing a series of privacy scandals, was among others who participated in Friday's events.
Mayor Eric Garcetti of Los Angeles said the mayors will spend $5 million in communities across the country to help immigrants with the process of become U.S. citizens. He also called on Republican President Donald Trump's administration to halt its policy of separating children from their parents after they cross the U.S. border.
"We have to obey laws, we have to fix systems, but can we be human beings first?" Garcetti said.
The mayors also criticized plans to add a citizenship question to the 2020 Census, and Baltimore Mayor Catherine Pugh suggested she would encourage residents to skip the question altogether.
Steve Benjamin, the mayor of Columbia, South Carolina, and president of the group, said cities are a "force to be reckoned with," pointing to a report the group released Friday that shows American cities accounted for about 96 percent of the country's job growth in 2017. The report says the 10 metropolitan areas alone generated $6.8 trillion in economic value in 2017, surpassing the output of most states.
"You won't find much disagreement up here, but we all believe that mayors have been and are incredibly effective when it comes to leveraging our resources," said Mayor Bryan Barnett of Rochester Hills, Michigan.