Safe Communities Act needed now

Legislature must act on basic immigrant protections

AS WE GATHER this holiday season to reaffirm our commitment to family and community, people of good will have an opportunity to raise our collective voice to urge Gov. Charlie Baker and the Massachusetts Legislature to keep families together.

We’ve heard about the crisis of family separation at the US border, caused by the Trump administration’s scheme to intentionally target children and parents who seek safety and freedom on our shores. Although the ACLU and its allies have gone to court to reunite thousands of families, the crisis continues to grow. Just last month, the administration conceded it had separated thousands more families than it had previously admitted in court, bringing the total count to more than 5,500. That’s too many children and parents forced to spend the holidays apart.

But the problem isn’t only at the border. Here in Massachusetts, families are being separated by indefinite ICE detention without due process. Couples seeking approval for marriages between citizens and non-citizens have been tricked and detained by federal immigration agents. A worker who reported workplace safety violations suffered retaliation by a Boston police officer who reported him to ICE. Sick children and their parents seeking care in Boston-area hospitals have been threatened with deportation despite life-threatening medical conditions.

Meanwhile, federal ICE agents have prowled Massachusetts courthouses to make arrests, which intimidates people and can even deter them from seeking justice in our courts. Massachusetts doctors and health care professionals warn that immigrant families are not accessing health services for fear that federal agents are lying in wait. Domestic violence groups warn that survivors are trapped by their abusers for fear of getting picked up by ICE and separated from their children. Educators report that families are afraid to send children to school.

How did the good people of Massachusetts get caught up in this web of family separations and fear?

To be sure, the Trump administration bears the brunt of responsibility for demonizing immigrants. But Massachusetts lawmakers will share in the shame and responsibility unless they pass basic immigrant protections for Massachusetts.

There is cause for hope. In a year that brought continued family separation and a record number of immigrants in detention, dozens of Massachusetts cities and towns have passed municipal ordinances to keep our communities safe by declining to collaborate with the Trump deportation machine beyond what is required by federal law. The ACLU and other advocacy groups have successfully challenged unconstitutional separation of children and parents, and last month forced the Trump administration to halt efforts to deport children who depend on life-saving care they are receiving at Massachusetts hospitals.

Now, it’s the Legislature’s turn to act. The Safe Communities Act will enhance public safety for all of us by ending voluntary collaboration with federal immigration deportation efforts. When local police also work for ICE, it undermines public safety by making people afraid to seek help in an emergency or report crimes out of fear that police will turn them over to ICE. The Safe Communities Act keeps families together and makes all of us safer.

Advocates and members of the public will testify in support of the Safe Communities Act at a State House hearing on December 2. But Bay Staters can take meaningful action now: Call your Massachusetts representatives and Governor Baker, and urge them to pass the Safe Communities Act to ensure that state and local resources are used to make our communities stronger, and not to tear families apart.

Meet the Author

Carol Rose

Guest Contributor

About Carol Rose

Executive Director, ACLU of Massachusetts

About Carol Rose

Executive Director, ACLU of Massachusetts

If the holidays mean anything, it’s about keeping families together.

Carol Rose is the executive director of the ACLU of Massachusetts.