Mayor-elect Walsh opens up on immigration, Secure Communities

Hoping to meet in the next few weeks with other new mayors from around the country to discuss immigration, Boston Mayor-elect Marty Walsh on Tuesday said if he could "get around" enforcing the Secure Communities Act he would.

Walsh attended the Massachusetts Immigrant and Refugee Advocacy Coalition's annual free Thanksgiving luncheon and spent some time serving mashed potatoes before dishing on how immigrants would have a "friend" in City Hall.

"People that get pulled over, I don't think that necessarily we have to bring in immigration for that," Walsh told reporters before the event. Asked if he would "continue implementing" Secure Communities in Boston, Walsh said, "If we can get around it, we won't."

Secure Communities is a program that gathers data submitted by local and state law enforcement for the FBI to perform identity verification and immigration checks on arrestees. Though many immigrant activists argue the program has eroded the relationship between police and immigrants afraid to report crimes, Immigration and Customs Enforcement says the program has effectively removed dangerous people from the country.

The program was first presented to states as optional, and Boston was one of the cities that piloted it. Gov. Deval Patrick resisted implementation of Secure Communities in Massachusetts, but in May 2012 the federal government announced it would be mandatory in every state.

Sen. Jamie Eldridge (D-Acton) and Rep. Carl Sciortino (D-Medford) have filed legislation (S 1135/H 1613) known as the "Trust Act" that is designed to scale back Massachusetts law enforcement's participation in the Secure Communities program. The bill would limit state enforcement of ICE detainers, provide attorney privileges to individuals before they are interviewed by ICE and require reimbursement for the expense of participation.

"I'm looking at that. I haven't had a chance to see it yet. I know Mayor Menino was leaning that way and it's something I'm going to make a decision on very soon," said Walsh, who later in the interview said he was "very strong in favor" of the Trust Act, but deferred to Menino who still occupies City Hall.

Walsh plans in the next couple of weeks to travel to Washington D.C. to meet with federal officials and new mayors where he hopes the topic of immigration is a focal point. California Gov. Jerry Brown in October signed a version of the Trust Act for his state, which was seen at the time as an expression of the frustration at the state level with Congress's inability to address immigration laws.

"I can remember in my house where people who were here, family members who were here, they couldn't go back to Ireland for a funeral or a wake because they weren't here properly, and I think that one of the things I promise to do as mayor of the city of Boston is to go down to Washington, D.C. and work with Congress, work with the Senate so we do get some immigration reform legislation passed in this country. It's very, very important," Walsh said.

Walsh said he expected to announce his full transition team next week, and that the campaign was currently in the process of notifying individual people he has identified to join those already on the team, including former rivals City Councilor Felix Arroyo, Charlotte Golar Richie and John Barros.

Walsh said the transition team would help him develop processes for selecting the next school superintendent and police commissioner for the city.

"I think in all of the decisions, we're going to look internally, but we're also going to look externally. We're going to see exactly who's available and who'd be interested in coming in. Those are decisions we're going to make as we move forward in the transition," Walsh said.

Speaking to members of the MIRA coalition in the Great Hall, Walsh tried to connect by sharing his own family's immigration story, which brought both his mother and his father to the United States from Ireland in the 1950s. He said his mother only became a citizen about 25 years ago.

Once in City Hall, Walsh said he hopes to implement a "Boston Integration Agenda" that will weave the needs of immigrant communities and immigrant business owners into the city's business development plans.

"If people are willing to make an investment in their neighborhoods, their government should be willing to make an investment in them," Walsh said.

Though there will be some political events to attend on Thursday, Walsh plans to spend Thanksgiving first at his mother's home in Dorchester and then at his girlfriend Lorrie Higgins's grandmother's house.


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