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Safe Communities Act may force Beacon Hill to weigh in on immigration

Immigrant advocates say the Safe Communities Act could serve as a barrier against Trump administration immigration law enforcement policies.
Immigrant Day Massachusetts State House
Sen. Jamie Eldridge addressed a packed Great Hall on Wednesday during the Massachusetts Immigrant and Refugee Advocacy Coalition's Immigrant Day at the State House. [Sam Doran/SHNS]

Hundreds of immigrants and supporters packed the State House on Wednesday to urge swift passage of a bill that would prevent state state resources from being used to enforce federal immigration law.

Speakers at the Massachusetts Immigrant and Refugee Advocacy Coalition's annual advocacy day said the bill, dubbed the Safe Communities Act (S 1305, H 3269), could serve as a barrier against Trump administration immigration law enforcement policies.

Sen. Jamie Eldridge, the bill's Senate sponsor, said he had recently received an email from a constituent whose husband, originally from Brazil, was detained and jailed by Immigration and Customs Enforcement officials. Eldridge said the man had been driving for work when he stopped at a rest area for coffee and encountered ICE agents who asked him for legal-status documents, which he did not have.

"This is not just an isolated incident. This is happening all across the country and yes, it is happening in Massachusetts as well," Eldridge said.

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Eldridge, an Acton Democrat, said the bill would also prevent sheriffs from deputizing their employees to act as immigration agents, require that detainees be informed of their right to an attorney, and prevent state resources from being used to create a "Muslim registry."

The bill stands in direct contrast to President Donald Trump's Jan. 25 executive order aimed at preventing illegal immigration, which establishes it as administration policy "to empower State and local law enforcement agencies across the country to perform the functions of an immigration officer in the interior of the United States to the maximum extent permitted by law."

"Aliens who illegally enter the United States without inspection or admission present a significant threat to national security and public safety," the order says. "Such aliens have not been identified or inspected by Federal immigration officers to determine their admissibility to the United States."

Senate President Stan Rosenberg said Trump had "set loose the idea that any person with police powers, by his executive order, can look you up and down as you walk down the street...decide you look pretty suspicious to me, and he can insist that you show your papers."

"If we do not all stand shoulder to shoulder, everyone whether you are an immigrant or not an immigrant, your turn may come next," Rosenberg said.

Secretary of State William Galvin said Massachusetts should lead the nation on immigration issues, drawing a parallel to the fight against slavery and the U.S. Civil War.

"Slavery was an issue in this country for a long time, and the behavior of some of the ICE officials in catching people is nothing short of the same activity that the slave catchers did," Galvin said, drawing applause. He went on to call the behavior of the Trump administration "typical of a totalitarian regime."

Rep. Marc Lombardo, a Billerica Republican, later said Galvin "owes law enforcement an apology," posting on Twitter, "Outrageous comparison by Sec. Galvin. Equating enforcement of immigration laws to slave trade is heinous."

Numbers show supporters of the bill are close to majorities in both branches, creating pressure on legislative leadership to surface the proposals. According to MIRA, 92 Democratic lawmakers are co-sponsoring the Safe Communities Act, including 75 in the 160-person House and 17 of the 40 senators.

Rep. Juana Matias, the bill's House sponsor, told the News Service she thinks it has "picked up momentum with what's happening nationally" and because of grassroots activism.

Gov. Charlie Baker and House Speaker Robert DeLeo have each expressed a preference to leave "sanctuary" policy decisions to individual municipalities.

"I think no one knows a city or town better than their local officials, whether it's a mayor, whether it's a selectperson or whatever, and I think they along with their council should have the final say in terms of making that decision," DeLeo said Sunday on WCVB's "On the Record."

U.S. Attorney General Jeff Sessions on March 27 urged cities and states to end sanctuary policies and announced that the Justice Department would "claw back" funds awarded to jurisdictions that do not comply with federal law around sharing Immigration and Naturalization Service information.

"The American people want and deserve a lawful immigration system that keeps us safe and serves our national interest," he said. "This expectation is reasonable, and our government has a duty to meet it. And we will meet it."

Several other states have made moves to adopt their own "sanctuary" policies restricting collaboration with federal immigration enforcement, the most recent being California, where the state Senate passed a sanctuary bill on Monday. Maryland's House of Delegates and the New York Assembly have passed similar legislation, and Washington Gov. Jay Inslee in February signed an executive order labeling his state a "welcoming jurisdiction" for immigrants.

 
 
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