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Editorial: Standing up against ICE

  • Congressman James McGovern, seen here delivering the commencement address during the Amherst Regional High School graduation, June 8,  at the Mullins Center, has called for abolishing Immigration and Customs Enforcement. GAZETTE FILE PHOTO


Wednesday, July 11, 2018

Across the region, officials continue to stand up against the U.S. Immigrations and Customs Enforcement (ICE) agency.

ICE was formed in 2003 through a merger of the investigative and interior enforcement elements of the former U.S. Customs Service and the Immigration and Naturalization Service. It enforces federal laws governing immigration, border control, trade and customs. Under President Donald Trump’s “zero tolerance” policy on immigration, it has been wielded as a weapon against immigration rights protected by law.

There are consequences to standing up to ICE. The Trump White House builds on relationships with law enforcement personnel in friendly jurisdictions and ratchets up the pressure on those who don’t cooperate by threatening to take away federal funding. Decisions to back or snub ICE are not made lightly.

A year ago, Attorney General Jeff Sessions announced that police departments would no longer be eligible for Justice Department grants unless local officers cooperated with immigration officials to detain and deport undocumented immigrants.

That was a potential threat to money received by Amherst and Northampton, which are among the communities declaring themselves as “sanctuary cities” where local police decline to help federal officials detain immigrants who lack proper documentation but otherwise have not committed any crimes that could lead to deportation.

Immigrants lacking proper documentation remain in sanctuary at the First Congregational Church in Amherst and the Unitarian Society of Northampton and Florence.

Congressman James McGovern, D-Worcester, is one of the first U.S. House members to call for ICE’s abolition. McGovern’s 2nd Congressional District includes portions of Hampshire and Franklin counties.

“It’s time to abolish ICE,” McGovern posted June 28 on his website. “We need to start a fresh conversation. If there are elements that work, we can maintain and strengthen those aspects. Otherwise, we need to thoroughly re-evaluate and re-think immigration enforcement. ... I am urging my fellow legislators to join me in fixing this deeply politicized and broken system.”

Legislation proposed by Rep. Mark Pocan, a Democrat from Wisconsin, would dismantle ICE and form a commission to make recommendations to Congress on how the federal government can implement a humane immigration enforcement system. McGovern said that he spoke to Pocan and that both of their offices are involved in drafting the bill, along with the offices of others in Congress.

“We’re not rushing something to the floor,” said McGovern, who confirmed that he would be a co-sponsor of the legislation As for its chances, McGovern noted that Democrats do not control the House. However, he said that he hopes that it promotes discussion, at a minimum.

“I think the status quo is not working,” McGovern said.

At the Franklin County Jail and House of Correction in Greenfield, Sheriff Christopher Donelan’s adherence to the letter of the law when it comes to his contract with ICE amounts to a snub. That contract, which provides $1 million annually for the operating budget, stipulates that the Franklin County jail will only hold people who already have been convicted of crimes.

“I’ve made it very clear that I won’t hold people here only because of their immigration status,” Donelan said.

In other words, Donelan will not be ICE’s partner in depriving asylum-seekers of a hearing before a judge, will not aid and abet the separation of families at the southern border by holding parents thousands of miles away from their children and will not be complicit in ICE raids, such as the “targeted vehicle stop” in Hatfield last November, resulting in the deportation proceedings against three undocumented Guatemalan migrants.

That raid happened overnight and those migrants were brought to the Franklin County House of Correction. The next morning, when Donelan found out about his latest arrivals, he told federal officials that they must be sent elsewhere. “We sent them out because we weren’t convinced of the situation there or our ability to legally hold them,” Donelan said.

The Hampshire County Jail and House of Correction in Northampton does not house ICE detainees.

Speaking about the border situation, Donelan said it’s “absolutely horrendous ... It makes me sick to my stomach to see our federal government treating people that way.”

We agree and believe this discussion is long overdue.