Letter to the Editor: Let's get behind swift passage of the Safe Communities Act

To the Editor:

In order to protect the safety of all residents of the Commonwealth no matter where they are from, we need to pass the Safe Communities Act (SCA). This legislation will ensure that all of us in Massachusetts, whether we are originally from the United States or not, can get emergency services, can contact the police when needed, or enter a courtroom without risking being deported. This will be ensured by the passage of The Safe Communities Act and will help keep all of us safe as well.

The SCA limits state and local law enforcement involvement in purely civil immigration matters, so everyone feels safe turning to the police or to our state courts for protection. The act allows full continued collaboration with federal agencies on criminal or other regulatory matters.

State and local law enforcement can still communicate with federal authorities about a person’s citizenship, immigration status, or arrest information. SCA also expressly allows law enforcement to notify ICE when person is released from custody at the end of their sentence, just not before. This preserves access to justice for victims, witnesses, and defendants.

The SCA does not prevent law enforcement from holding people who are public safety risks. Police and courts can still hold people for prosecution on criminal charges. In fact, the SCA has no impact whatsoever on criminal proceedings. It also does not change existing law (Commonwealth v. Lunn), that Massachusetts police and courts do not have the authority to arrest or detain people on purely civil immigration grounds.

Gov. Baker’s claim that the Lunn decision is responsible for the disruptive presence of ICE in our courthouses, and that we need to assist ICE more, not less is wrong. Under the Trump administration, ICE is arresting immigrants everywhere it can, which is why courthouse arrests are on the rise nationally – not just in criminal courts, but in housing, family, and traffic courts, where people without any criminal record at all are targeted.

If SCA is passed, the federal government cannot retaliate against Massachusetts. Federal courts have repeatedly ruled that federal funding can’t be tied to whether a state volunteers its police for federal immigration tasks. Each key provision in the SCA has survived federal challenge somewhere in the United States. And despite federal efforts, no city or state has lost its federal funding because it did not voluntarily collaborate with deportation efforts.

When communities have strong relationships and are not afraid to interact with law enforcement, fewer crimes go unreported, and individuals seek necessary help and medical care. Local law enforcement needs to focus their limited resources and time on ensuring the safety of our communities and enforcing local laws.

Most importantly the Safe Communities Act keeps families together. When even a routine traffic stop can lead to detention, deportation, and family separations, we need to protect children from needless suffering and trauma. Most immigrant families include US citizens and people with varied statuses, so when we collaborate with ICE, we’re breaking those families apart.

The Legislature’s Joint Committee on Public Safety and Homeland Security will hold a day-long hearing on the Safe Communities Act in the largest room in the State House, Gardner Auditorium, on Jan. 24 from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. I encourage you to attend to the hearing and/or to call or write our representatives to support the bill.

Kelley Ready