The issue of immigration is nothing new to the United States. Throughout our history as a nation open to anyone seeking a better life, the influx of various groups has continuously generated some form of tension and mistrust as people integrate and adapt to American society.
The East Boston-based immigrants rights organization, Centro Presente, embarked on an education campaign throughout the State House, calling on legislators to support the TRUST Act as an alternative to the Secure Communities Act.
The Secure Communities Act is a federal measure that uses local law enforcement data to identify individuals thought to be in the U.S. illegally. Activists, immigrant’s rights groups and members of the various immigrant communities have spoken out against Secure Communities, saying that the law prevents immigrants from reporting crimes for fear that they themselves will be investigated.
The TRUST Act aims to stem deportation in Massachusetts, and focus on getting rid of the undocumented people who have committed serious crimes, while keeping families intact and improving relationships between immigrant communities and local law enforcement.
“A lot of what we’re seeing is this mistrust between the police and immigrants, whether they’re here legally or not,” State Senator Jamie Eldridge said. “The Secure Communities Act gives the police the green light to detain and potentially deport undocumented people even if they haven’t committed a serious crime. Given the logjam in D.C. in the U.S. Congress and with the immigration system, there are steps that state governments can take to improve public safety and better support immigrants.”
Eldridge and State Rep. Evandro Carvahlo are sponsors of the TRUST Act in their respective legislative branches.
Eldridge said that while being in the United States illegally is a civil violation, the priority of law enforcement should be to handle dangerous criminals.
“The vast majority of undocumented immigrants in our communities are law-abiding people who came here to work hard and provide a better life for their families,” Eldridge said. “The TRUST Act disagrees with federal immigration laws, but I agree with President Obama’s stance to improve the path to citizenship for those who haven’t committed any serious crimes.”
Centro Presente cited studies which show that in major U.S. cities, 44 percent of Latinos are afraid to call 911 in the event that they witness or are a victim of crime. That number leaps up to 70 percent within the undocumented communities.
“A lot of people are afraid to report crime if they are undocumented,” Centro Presente Executive Director Patricia Montes said. “They think they’ll be arrested if they call 911. It will help us open a channel of communication between the police and members of our communities. We do not want an antagonistic relationship with local police at all. No one should be intimidated and afraid to call for help.”
The Boston City Council voted to support the TRUST ACT in August 2014.
“Law enforcement understand it and support the TRUST policies because if almost half of the population won’t report crimes because they’re afraid, that’s not good for anyone,” Centro Presente Organizer Cesar Boc said. “That’s a danger to all public safety.”
The issue of immigration on a national level has heated language from pundits and politicians alike.
FOX News talking head Bill O’Reilly introduced a petition for “Kate’s Law” to detain all deported undocumented immigrants who come back into the United States for five years. He created the petition after 32-year-old Kate Steinle was shot and killed in San Francisco on July 1 by Francisco Sanchez, a 45-year-old who had been deported five times.
“We know what happened in San Francisco was a tragedy,” Boc said. “It’s senseless violence. But when tragedies like this happen, we don’t want politicians or political candidates to use them to vilify immigrants across the board.”
Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump raised eyebrows when he delivered a controversial campaign speech.
“When Mexico sends its people, they’re not sending their best,” Trump said. “They’re bringing drugs. They’re bringing crime. They’re rapists. And some, I assume, are good people.”
But local activists are pushing Beacon Hill to see things from a different angle.
“We’re here to educate policy makers and people in general about the negative impact of the Secure Communities Act,” Montes said. “Unfortunately, the Obama administration told us that the Secure Communities Act was implemented to deport criminals, but studies show that the large number of deported people do not have criminal convictions.”