Compromise immigration bill gets police backing

  • The Massachusetts State House in Boston

Associated Press
Tuesday, February 27, 2018

BOSTON — Major police organizations threw their support on Tuesday behind revamped legislation that would limit, but not entirely restrict, collaboration between local law enforcement and federal immigration officials in Massachusetts.

Supporters are billing the measure as a compromise between an earlier proposal — dubbed the Safe Communities Act — that sought to make Massachusetts a de facto “sanctuary state” for immigrants in the U.S. illegally, and a measure filed by Republican Gov. Charlie Baker that would allow police to cooperate with immigration officials by holding people who have committed violent crimes and are considered dangerous.

The Baker administration, however, signaled that it would not immediately back the redrafted bill unveiled by Democratic lawmakers at a Statehouse news conference.

“No compromise is perfect but doing nothing would be incomprehensible,” said Rep. Juanita Matias, of Lawrence, who sponsored the bill with Sen. Jamie Eldridge, of Acton.

Under the measure, police departments would be authorized to honor detainer requests from Immigration and Customs Enforcement for up to six hours if a person who is arrested has been previously convicted of serious crimes such as terrorism, drug trafficking, sexual assault and domestic violence.

The proposed compromise was endorsed by the Massachusetts Police Chiefs Association and the Massachusetts Major City Police Chiefs Association, two organizations that had previously supported Baker’s bill.

“It is our belief that this important legislative change will absolutely enhance safety in our respective communities by preventing dangerous individuals who meet certain criteria based on their criminal records from being released back into our cities and towns to potentially reoffend and commit further acts of violence,” said Chelsea Police Chief Brian Kyes.

Baker’s bill

The governor filed his bill in October following a ruling by the state’s highest court that said police officers in Massachusetts lacked authority to hold an individual solely on the basis a federal immigration detainer. Baker’s proposal allows police to cooperate with ICE by holding people who have committed violent crimes and are considered dangerous, though any hold of longer than 12 hours would be subject to judicial review.

In a letter sent to Eldridge and Matias this week, Dan Bennett, Baker’s Secretary of Public Safety and Homeland Security, indicated he could not support the compromise.

The governor’s proposal better addresses the loophole the high court identified in state law “by authorizing, but not requiring, state and local law enforcement to honor detention requests from Immigration and Customs Enforcement for aliens who pose a threat to public safety,” Bennett wrote.

The Democrats’ bill, he argued, would only postpone for six hours the setting of bail for a suspect who is the subject of an immigration detainer, while not allowing defendants to be held upon their release from custody further along in the criminal process, such as from a courthouse or correctional facility. It also would invalidate an existing agreement that allows Department of Correction staff to assist in deporting dangerous convicted felons, Bennett wrote.

The proposed compromise would allow state prison officials to inform ICE of an inmate’s prospective release date.