Bill limiting local police and ICE interaction moves forward

Safe Communities Act heads to House Ways & Means

A CONTROVERSIAL BILL that would limit communications between law enforcement entities in Massachusetts and federal immigration authorities is moving forward on Beacon Hill.

Rep. Harold Naughton, co-chair of the Joint Committee on Public Safety and Homeland Security, confirmed that Safe Communities Act was passed by the committee with a favorable recommendation and will move on to the House Ways and Means Committee.

The bill’s language would prevent local police from questioning someone about their immigration status. Police officers would also be unable to notify the Department of Homeland Security and US Immigration and Customs Enforcement when someone is about to be released from custody unless their criminal sentence is about to end. No amendments were made to the legislation.

It would also end 287g agreements, which allow the state Department of Correction and county sheriffs to maintain contracts with ICE. Massachusetts is the only state in New England with such agreements to hold immigration detainees for federal authorities. The Department of Correction, and the Bristol, Barnstable, and Plymouth county sheriffs’ offices all recently renewed their partnerships.

Acton Sen. Jamie Eldridge is the Senate sponsor of the bill and Reps. Liz Miranda of Boston and Ruth Balser of Newton are the House co-sponsors.

Balser said she’s grateful the bill is moving forward. “Now, more than ever, it is important to let the immigrant community know that Massachusetts is a safe and welcoming home for immigrants and refugees,” she said in an emailed statement. She added that the coronavirus has hit the immigrant community hard and that it’s “heartbreaking to hear that there are many who don’t seek medical care for fear of local involvement with federal immigration enforcement.”

Last year, a group of domestic abuse survivors rode to the State House with the organization REACH Beyond Domestic Violence, and held a rally in favor of the bill.

An ICE official said that “Sanctuary city policies have demonstrably shown to negatively impact public safety. Policies that interfere with law enforcement cooperation are counterproductive and hurt the communities they purport to protect.”

Spokesman John Mohan said that the agency “does not comment on pending legislation.”

“This is a major step forward for immigrants across Massachusetts. We deeply appreciate the Committee chairs’ thoughtful consideration of this bill,” said Eva Millona, director of the Massachusetts Immigrant and Refugee Advocacy Coalition, which has lobbied for the measure for several years. “We hope we can count on leadership in both chambers to advocate strongly for this bill’s passage now. It’s time for everyone in our Commonwealth to feel safe seeking help when they need it.”

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Sarah Betancourt

Reporter, CommonWealth

About Sarah Betancourt

Sarah Betancourt is a bilingual journalist reporting across New England. Prior to joining Commonwealth, Sarah was a reporter for The Associated Press in Boston, and a correspondent with The Boston Globe and The Guardian. She has written about immigration, social justice, and health policy for outlets like NBC, The Boston Institute for Nonprofit Journalism, and the New York Law Journal. Sarah has reported stories such as a national look at teacher shortages, how databases are used by police departments to procure information on immigrants, and uncovered the spread of an infectious disease in children at a family detention center. She has covered the State House, local and national politics, crime and general assignment.

Sarah received a 2018 Investigative Reporters and Editors Award for her role in the ProPublica/NPR story, “They Got Hurt at Work and Then They Got Deported,” which explored how Florida employers and insurance companies were getting out of paying workers compensation benefits by using a state law to ensure injured undocumented workers were arrested or deported. Sarah attended Emerson College for a Bachelor’s Degree in Political Communication, and Columbia University for a fellowship and Master’s degree with the Stabile Center for Investigative Journalism.

About Sarah Betancourt

Sarah Betancourt is a bilingual journalist reporting across New England. Prior to joining Commonwealth, Sarah was a reporter for The Associated Press in Boston, and a correspondent with The Boston Globe and The Guardian. She has written about immigration, social justice, and health policy for outlets like NBC, The Boston Institute for Nonprofit Journalism, and the New York Law Journal. Sarah has reported stories such as a national look at teacher shortages, how databases are used by police departments to procure information on immigrants, and uncovered the spread of an infectious disease in children at a family detention center. She has covered the State House, local and national politics, crime and general assignment.

Sarah received a 2018 Investigative Reporters and Editors Award for her role in the ProPublica/NPR story, “They Got Hurt at Work and Then They Got Deported,” which explored how Florida employers and insurance companies were getting out of paying workers compensation benefits by using a state law to ensure injured undocumented workers were arrested or deported. Sarah attended Emerson College for a Bachelor’s Degree in Political Communication, and Columbia University for a fellowship and Master’s degree with the Stabile Center for Investigative Journalism.

Bristol County Sheriff Tom Hodgson, and groups like SAFE Boston and Advocates for Victims of Illegal Alien Crime testified against the bill in January.

With only two weeks left in the Legislature’s two-year session, the bill’s chances of moving through the entire legislative process are uncertain. Gov. Charlie Baker has opposed previous versions of the legislation. In 2018, Speaker Robert DeLeo said he was unlikely to bring the matter to a vote due to lack of consensus.