Safety, Profiling Concerns Swirl Over Immigrant Detainer Bill
STATE HOUSE, BOSTON — Civil liberties and immigrant rights activists converged on the State House this week to voice their displeasure with Gov. Charlie Baker's proposal to allow state and local police to cooperate, in some cases, with federal immigration detainer requests, with some activists going as far as to label the policy racist.
The Massachusetts chapter of the American Civil Liberties Union and Centro Presente, an East Boston-based immigrant rights organization, each protested Baker's bill this week outside the State House with charged language, with some activists holding signs referencing the Ku Klux Klan.
"Unfortunately, our Governor Baker has proposed a bill that will increase racial profiling of immigrant workers and their families in Massachusetts, and we can't allow racist practices that are being spread by (President Donald) Trump to make their way into state policies," Natalicia Tracy, executive director of the Brazilian Worker Center, said in a statement. "Governor Baker's Detention Bill is racist at its core and it will impact hard working immigrant families who have been living, working and paying taxes here for decades and who are part of the fabric of our society."
The bill (H 3870) Baker filed last week would allow state and local police to honor requests from Immigration and Customs Enforcement to detain individuals already in state custody on criminal charges or for sentences related to past violent crimes.
The legislation would allow -- but does not require -- police to honor a written request from ICE to hold an individual for up to 12 hours if that person has engaged in or is suspected of terrorism, has been convicted of a crime involving a street gang, has been convicted of a non-immigration related felony or certain state crimes like domestic violence, sexual abuse or human trafficking.
"The administration was pleased to propose legislation to allow the State Police to honor specific detainer requests for violent and dangerous criminals, convicted of crimes like murder and rape, and provide local officials with the flexibility they need to set policies appropriate to keep their communities safe," Baker spokesman Brendan Moss told the News Service in an email.
In a statement, Public Safety Secretary Daniel Bennett said the proposal would not allow police to enforce federal immigration law, as has been proposed by Rep. James Lyons.
"Any detention authorized by this bill would be limited to aliens already independently in state custody because of new state criminal charges or sentences," Bennett said in the statement. "This bill does not empower state or local police to proactively arrest people for immigration law violations; it would allow police to detain a person who is a threat to public safety for a limited period of time if that person were about to be released and the federal authorities were unable to immediately take the person into their custody."
Detaining anyone for longer than 12 hours at ICE's request would be subject to judicial review under the governor's bill. The bill was sent to the Joint Committee on the Judiciary but a hearing has not yet been scheduled.
Gabriel Camacho, the immigration programs coordinator for the American Friends Service Committee, said that since President Donald Trump took office ICE has not shown the same level of discretion in making contact with people who have violated immigration laws. Now, he said, the agency seems to cast a much wider net with less concern about who other than the intended target might be affected.
"There's a lot of what's called collateral damage," Camacho said at Tuesday's ACLU rally. "ICE will go over and try to find somebody but in the meantime, they would just pick up anybody in the neighborhood."
On Tuesday, the U.S. Department of Justice's Executive Office of Immigration Review released statistics showing immigration judges issued 49,983 removal orders for people illegally in the country between Feb. 1 and July 31 this year. During the same period last year, there were 39,113 removal orders issued.
In making the announcement Tuesday, the DOJ noted that Trump has "mobilized" more than 100 existing immigration judges to Department of Homeland Security detention facilities across the country and that more than 90 percent of these cases have resulted in orders requiring aliens to depart or be removed from the country. DOJ has hired 54 additional immigration judges since Trump took office, the department said.
Baker's proposal came a week after the Supreme Judicial Court ruled in an unsigned opinion that state law does not allow Massachusetts law enforcement to hold defendants at the request of the federal government for immigration violations if the state or local authorities have no other legal reason to keep the person in custody.
The practice Baker is seeking to codify in state law of honoring certain ICE detainer requests had been in effect for a year before the SJC's July 24 Lunn v. Commonwealth decision. That case was brought by a Cambodian refugee who was held by the Boston Municipal Court at the request of ICE after charges of unarmed robbery had been dismissed.
Two of the House's more progressive members -- Reps. Denise Provost of Somerville and Mike Connolly of Cambridge -- joined Centro Presente on Wednesday to rail against Baker's bill and pledge to do whatever they can to prevent it from becoming law. Rep. Carmine Gentile and Democratic gubernatorial candidate Setti Warren attended Tuesday's rally.
"These bills, of course, have been filed, they'll be turned over to committee for a hearing, but between now and then I think we can all make it politically impossible to overturn Lunn," Provost said. "I think we can make these bills politically dead on arrival. So let's do that."
Connolly called it "absolutely inconceivable and unacceptable" for Massachusetts to backtrack on the Lunn decision, which he called "a real breakthrough for us who have been supporting the Safe Communities Act."
Both events outside the State House this week included calls for the Legislature to pass the so-called Safe Communities Act, which would prevent state and local police from enforcing immigration law or detaining someone solely at the request of ICE for a civil immigration violation. Baker opposes the Safe Communities Act because he believes decisions about whether and how to cooperate with ICE should be made at the local level. While many Democrats in the Legislature support the Safe Communities Act, Democratic legislative leaders have not made it a priority seven months into the two-year session.
--Colin A. Young, State House News Service