Suffolk County Sheriff, Civil Rights Groups Back Mass Senate’s Historic Immigrant Rights Amendment

  • Bans official law enforcement collaboration with ICE to push back against Trump mass deportation agenda
  • Improves public safety by building trust between police and immigrant communities
  • Prohibits state resources from being used to create a Muslim registry

BOSTON (MA) — The Massachusetts Senate, on May 23rd, adopted an amendment to the Senate’s FY19 budget that would establish strong civil rights protections for undocumented immigrants and Muslim-Americans in Massachusetts. The amendment, which passed on a 25-13 vote, would ensure basic due process rights for people detained in state and local facilities for civil immigration violations, prevent law enforcement from asking people about their immigration status, and prohibit any state resources from being used to create a registry based on religion, nationality, and other characteristics protected by Massachusetts civil rights law.

“We all suffer when immigrants fear reporting crimes, going to work, or sending their children to school,” said Suffolk County Sheriff Steven Tompkins. “It erodes public safety and harms our economy. The majority of the undocumented immigrants here in Massachusetts came seeking refuge from gang violence or abject poverty, and the promise of a better life for them and for their families. Many of them would rather face victimization than take the risk of potential deportation by interacting with law enforcement. This is the harsh reality that we as a society are dealing with under the current administration’s expansive immigration enforcement orders, and I applaud the Senate for introducing policies that will help to rebuild trust between immigrant communities and Massachusetts law enforcement.”

“History will judge us for how we acted during this time of chaos and division in national politics, and I’m very proud of the historic action taken by the Senate to fight back against the President’s destructive immigration agenda,” said Senator Jamie Eldridge (D-Acton), the lead sponsor of the amendment titled Civil Rights and Safety. “I want to thank Senate President Chandler and Senate Ways and Means Chairwoman Spilka for their unwavering support of civil rights and public safety, and my other colleagues for their courage in taking this milestone vote. By adopting this amendment, we will be enhancing public safety for everyone in Massachusetts residents and limit the damage to our economy.”

“Massachusetts is a welcoming and safe community. Our residents deserve to live decent lives free from intimidation, and this amendment reassures our American values,” said Senate President Harriette L. Chandler (D-Worcester). “I want to thank Senator Eldridge for his leadership on this amendment.”

“We are deeply grateful for the Senate’s leadership to protect our immigrant neighbors and friends. In particular, we thank Senator Eldridge, Senate President Chandler, and Chairwoman Spilka for standing up for Massachusetts values,” said Carol Rose, executive director of the ACLU of Massachusetts. “It is impossible to underestimate the impact these simple policies would have on countless lives of Massachusetts residents. We are all better off when parents do not have to fear being torn from their children, and when victims of domestic violence and other vulnerable residents feel safe to reach out to law enforcement for help.”

Eldridge’s Civil Rights and Safety Amendment, which was co-sponsored by 17 of his colleagues, would build on last summer’s historic SJC decision that prohibited law enforcement from honoring ICE detainers by banning official agreements to deputize local officers as immigration agents.

On July 24, 2017, in Lunn v. Commonwealth, the Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court (SJC) unanimously ruled that Massachusetts law does not allow law enforcement officers to hold individuals based solely on detainer requests from ICE. The first-in-the-nation decision is applied to any law enforcement officer acting under Massachusetts laws, and impacts existing collaborations on arrests between local law enforcement and ICE agents. The ruling does not, however, address or prohibit other forms of collaboration, such as formal 287 (g) agreements.

The Obama administration reduced the number of 287(g) agreements because it facilitated several instances of racial profiling and discriminatory raids on immigrant communities, the most egregious of which were enforced by Arizona Sheriff Joe Arpaio. Due to its ruthless efficiency, however, the program has more than doubled under the Trump administration with local and state law enforcement officials being used to carry out the President’s mass deportation policy. Currently, ICE has entered into 287(g) agreements with the Barnstable County Sheriff’s Office, Bristol County Sheriff’s Office, and the Plymouth County Sheriff’s Office, which would all be negated by this amendment. The Massachusetts Department of Correction also has a 287(g) agreement, but their agreement would be exempt from this prohibition. The Senate amendment does not protect people who are serving time in state prison. Instead, it allows DOC to continue its official collaboration with ICE, which currently entails informing ICE about the release date of undocumented immigrants from state prison.

“The SJC’s ruling last year was significant, but legislative action is still necessary in order to protect hardworking undocumented immigrants from being caught up in President Donald Trump’s mass deportation agenda,” Eldridge said. “Whereas previous White House administrations focused ICE resources on convicted criminals, the Trump administration’s policy targets all undocumented immigrants, including long-term, law-abiding members of our communities. These aggressive immigration enforcement policies are leaving families fearful of accessing critical health care services and domestic violence victims fearful of seeking help. We must make it clear that we do not want to live in a state where local and state enforcement are collaborating with federal ICE agents to target hardworking immigrants. This is not only critical for immigrant communities, but enhances the public safety of all Massachusetts residents, as well as limits the damage to our economy due to Donald Trump’s xenophobic agenda.”

During the first year of the Trump administration, arrests by Immigration and Customs Enforcement officers surged 40 percent, according to data provided by ICE. However, the biggest jump in arrests has been of immigrants with no criminal convictions. ICE made 37,734 noncriminal arrests in the government’s 2017 fiscal year, more than double the number in the previous year. According to a recent Boston Globe report, arrests of undocumented immigrants in the Boston area increased by more than 50 percent in the last fiscal year, while arrests of people without criminal backgrounds more than tripled.

“Immigrant families deserve to know that they are safe and welcome anywhere in our Commonwealth — and that if they can call 911 and speak to police without fear that they’ll be separated and referred for deportation,” said Eva Millona, Executive Director of the Massachusetts Immigrant and Refugee Advocacy Coalition (MIRA). “The Senate took a strong stand for Massachusetts values, and we are deeply grateful to Senator Eldridge for his passion and persistence; to Senate President Harriette Chandler and Ways & Means Chairwoman Karen Spilka for their strong leadership; and to every one of the 25 Senators who voted to protect Massachusetts’ most vulnerable residents.”

“This is a much needed step to give Massachusetts’ immigrants the protection they deserve as they continue contributing to our local economy and local communities,” said Roxana Rivera, Vice President and Massachusetts District Leader of 32BJ, the largest property service union in the country. “As a union with tens of thousands of immigrant members, protecting working families from being ripped apart and defending the rights of all immigrants is one of our key duties. We look forward to the house and the Governor signing off on these additions to the state budget for FY2019, which make a strong stand for our American values and keep immigrants and working families safe in our state. “

Eldridge’s Civil Rights and Safety amendment, number 1147, would ensure that police and other law enforcement officials refrain from inquiring about a person’s immigration status unless required by law. This will help providers who assist immigrant survivors of domestic violence, including medical providers, to safely encourage their clients and patients to report abuse to the police. The amendment includes court officials, but not judges, who may need to be able to ask such questions to adjudicate cases properly. It also requires that this guidance be incorporated into police training programs.

“We applaud Senator Eldridge and the Massachusetts State Senate for taking this important step in removing the life-threatening barriers for immigrant survivors of sexual assault and/or domestic violence who need access to supports and services,” said Debra Robbin, Executive Director of Jane Doe Inc., a statewide sexual and domestic violence coalition that works to promote safety, justice, and healing for survivors. “All survivors – regardless of their citizenship status – deserve to know that their local law enforcement will prioritize their safety. We now look to the House and the Governor to ensure that these critical provisions are adopted in the final budget.”

The Civil Rights and Safety amendment would also require police to inform persons of their right to decline an ICE interview or to have a private attorney present, and to obtain the person’s consent before an interview. Immigration agents routinely interview people in police custody. Because “Miranda” warnings are not constitutionally required in the civil immigration context, noncitizens are often unaware that they have the right to seek legal help before consenting to an interview with ICE. Without this simple warning, people charged with minor offenses like unlicensed driving can lose their ability to protect themselves and their families from deportation. This amendment would direct the Attorney General to create a uniform consent form for this purpose, in English and other languages commonly spoken in Massachusetts. It also requires police to provide people with copies of any immigration-related documents they have received from ICE.

“Agencia ALPHA thanks Senator Eldridge and the Massachusetts Senate for their courage to keep fighting on behalf of our immigrant community and his desire to not letting this year pass without the commitment from our elected officials to make this State a safe State. This victory gives us the strength needed to keep fighting,” said Damaris Velasquez, Director of Programs at Agencia Alpha, a faith-based non-profit that provides legalization & citizenship services.

Eldridge’s amendment gives law enforcement discretion in cases where they suspect an undocumented immigrant might present a danger to Massachusetts communities. Under the Senate amendment, if they arrest someone who has a violent criminal past, and ICE issues a detainer, police may use their best judgment to notify ICE about the release date of the individual under arrest.

Finally, the amendment would ensure that Massachusetts resources are not used to create or help the federal government create any federal program requiring registration of persons on the basis of race, gender, gender identity, sexual orientation, religion, national origin, nationality, citizenship, ethnicity, or age.

“We’re grateful to Senator Eldridge, Senate President Harriette Chandler and Ways & Means Chairwoman Karen Spilka for working to welcome and ensure the security of all the Commonwealth’s residents,” said Nazia Ashraful, Government Affairs Director of the Council on American-Islamic Relations, Massachusetts. “We look forward to seeing House leadership and the Governor follow the Senate’s example and adopt these amendments in the final budget. Together we can send a message to Massachusetts and the rest of the country that we refuse to allow immigrants, Muslims, or any other minority group to be the targets of discriminatory policy and rhetoric.”

“One of President Trump’s hate-inciting tactics on the campaign trail was the promise of a Muslim registry,” Eldridge said. “Though President Trump has yet to deliver on a Muslim Registry, there’s no telling if the issue will come up again. This is after all a president who remains determined to institute an unconstitutional travel ban on predominantly Muslim countries.”

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