House OKs 1 of 2 immigration bills

Bars inmate use outside state, but delays action on other anti-Trump measure

STATE HOUSE NEWS SERVICE

MASSACHUSETTS HOUSE LEADERS indefinitely postponed a planned vote Wednesday on legislation recommended by Democrats as a response to President Donald Trump’s illegal immigration crackdown, even as they approved another measure barring state sheriffs from offering inmates for labor outside the state.

The postponed bill would have prevented state resources from being used to execute agreements with US Immigration and Customs Enforcement to train state and local law enforcement to act as federal immigration agents.

On Twitter, Republican Rep. Marc Lombardo of Billerica credited the “calls, emails, & strong voice” of opponents to the “sanctuary state bill” for getting it temporarily tabled.

Filed by New Bedford Rep. Antonio Cabral, the bill was one of two that House Speaker Robert DeLeo of Winthrop had scheduled for debate on Wednesday that had been recommended by the Judiciary Committee and a special House working group tasked with crafting responses to President Trump’s policy agenda.

“We’re disappointed. We thought that this was a very good step forward,” said Marion Davis, communications director for the Massachusetts Immigrant and Refugee Advocacy Coalition. “We feel that it’s important for the House to take a strong stand that Massachusetts resources should be used for Massachusetts people, not to implement a federal deportation agenda.”

A spokesman for House Speaker Robert DeLeo confirmed that many House members had questions about the bill and said it was referred to the House Ways and Means Committee “to provide more time.”

The postponed legislation would prohibit any state money from being used to implement what is known as a 287G agreement with Immigration and Customs and Enforcement to train local law enforcement or correction officers in immigration law. “Really, they become deputized ICE agents,” Cabral said during a recent discussion of the bill with his House colleagues on the Trump working group.

Bristol and Plymouth County sheriffs, along with the Department of Correction, have signed 287G agreements with ICE, according to Cabral, but have not yet sent any correction officers to South Carolina for training.

Federal authorities also prohibit federal tax dollars from being spent to implement the program, which Cabral said would have the effect of making any agreement unenforceable.

Gov. Charlie Baker on Wednesday reiterated his opposition to using state prisoners for out-of-state labor, but on the immigration enforcement issue he referred back to the policy in place under his predecessor.

“On the second piece, Massachusetts under Gov. Patrick put in place the ability for the DOC, the Department of Correction, to do the kind of analysis and the work with federal immigration officials for dangerous, violent criminals who are inside our prison system and if they determine that they are, in fact, here illegally they work with the feds to have them removed from the country and that’s a policy that Gov. Patrick put in place and its a policy that I support,” Baker said.

The bill barring sheriffs from offering state inmates as labor outside of Massachusetts, also filed by Cabral, was a direct response to Bristol County Sheriff Thomas Hodgson’s suggestion that he would offer to use prisoners from his facilities to help build a wall along the border with Mexico.

Minority Leader Brad Jones, a North Reading Republican, said the bill sought to solve a problem that did not exist and that the Legislature should instead be addressing “existing, ongoing, real-life, today problems” that affect cities and towns.

“Quite frankly, I’m somewhat stunned that this has become one of the priority bills to do,” he said.

On votes that closely tracked party lines, Democrats defeated two separate bids by Jones to gather more information about out-of-state inmate labor. His attempt to send the bill to the Ways and Means Committee for an analysis of potential cost savings or avoided expenses was rejected 36-113. A Jones amendment creating a commission to study the bill’s cost and effectiveness was shot down 38-117.

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Matt Murphy

State House News Service
After close to three hours of debate, the bill (H 3034) passed on a 120-35 vote. Rep. Susannah Whipps of Athol was the only Republican to vote yes, and Reps. Brian Murray of Milford and Jonathan Zlotnik of Gardner were the Democrats who voted no. The bill now moves to the Senate.

Andy Metzger and Stephanie Murray contributed to this story.