Ngan Tran / Gavel Media

Massachusetts Lawmakers Debate Measure to Protect Immigrant Communities from ICE

The Joint Committee on Public Safety and Homeland Security for Massachusetts held a public hearing on Friday to consider making Massachusetts a “sanctuary state.” The House and Senate joint committee sat for several hours to hear testimony on House Bill 3573 and Senate Bill 1401, known as the “Safe Communities Act.” 

Sponsored by State Representatives Ruth Balser and Liz Miranda, as well as State Senator James Eldridge, the bill seeks to make the state of Massachusetts a “sanctuary state,” limiting the influence of United States Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) in the state.

The bill seeks to prohibit 287g agreements with ICE officials that allow ICE agents to “to enter into agreements with state and local law enforcement agencies, that permit designated officers to perform limited immigration law enforcement functions,” according to the 1996 Immigration Reform Bill. 

Director of Public Safety and Boston College Chief of Police William B. Evans allegedly signed one of these agreements while working for the Boston Police Department. 

In addition, the bill seeks to ban police officers and court personnel from asking about immigration status unless required by law. 

Massachusetts Immigrant and Refugee Advocacy Coalition (MIRA) states that under the current state policy “many immigrants fear that calling 911 or speaking to police will lead to separation from family members – especially children.” 

MIRA and the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) partnered to create a Safe Communities Act campaign advocating for passage of the bill and organizing around the scheduled hearing date. Both partners have launched community-wide initiatives to educate Massachusetts residents about the bill and other obstacles immigrants face.

One such education program was "Pereira Brito v. Barr: The ACLU’s Class Action to Secure Fair Bond Hearings for Detained Immigrants," presented at Boston College on Thursday, January 23.

Both the Safe Communities Act and the ACLU’s lawsuit seek to secure and standardize due process for detained immigrants.

In Pereira Brito v. Barr, the ACLU’s lawsuit, the courts ruled that “the government cannot hold people in civil detention without affirmatively showing that they are a danger or flight risk, and must consider alternatives to detention and ability to pay.” 

The Safe Communities Act wishes to extend protections for people in the criminal justice system by mandating that ICE must obtain consent from immigrants before interviewing them. Detained immigrants must be read, and must demonstrate they understand their Miranda rights. 

This protection would close a loophole that does not require Miranda rights to be read in civil-immigration cases. Thus, many non-citizens are currently unaware of their right to have a lawyer present during ICE interviews. 

Both sides presented their case to the Joint Committee on Friday, during testimony that lasted six hours. 

Amy Grunder, the director of State Policy and Legislative Affairs for MIRA, highlighted the fear an alliance between local police forces and ICE agents brought to immigrant communities. 

 “When immigrants see police in courts involved in deportations, they stop reporting crimes," Grunder said. 

Other advocates for the bill continued to highlight this trend of fear facing communities when they are unsure of whether the local police are working for ICE or for the community. Young children especially wonder if they will return home to find their parents missing, detained by ICE. 

Opponents of the bill argued that the Safe Communities Act only protects immigrants and does not actually protect Commonwealth citizens. Many told stories of their relatives being killed by undocumented immigrants and claimed that the bill would prevent justice from being served. 

The Safe Communities Act was considered last session as well, where the Joint Committee did not pass the bill on to the general assembly. The fate of the bill this session is unclear, although Massachusetts Governor Charlie Baker has promised to veto the bill if it makes it to his desk. 

Supporters or opponents of the bill can email or call their state Senators and state representatives in order to have their voices heard. 

The next immigration presentation at Boston College will be a screening of the documentary “Detained,” hosted by the Center for Human Rights and International Justice on Thursday, February 6th. 

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