Area lawmakers throw support behind Safe Communities Act 

  • State Rep. Mindy Domb. GAZETTE FILE PHOTO

Staff Writer
Published: 12/3/2019 11:39:36 PM

NORTHAMPTON — Area legislators are rallying in support of the Safe Communities Act, a bill aimed at creating protections for immigrants who are in police custody or interacting with court officials.

The bill was first introduced shortly after Donald Trump was elected president and came in response to anti-immigrant rhetoric and policies, said Northampton state Rep. Lindsay Sabadosa, referring to the bill as “a really bare-bones piece of legislation.”

“Massachusetts hasn’t done anything to say we’re going to push back against anti-immigrant rhetoric,” she said, “and this bill is one of the ways we can do that.”

Sabadosa is among the bill’s 97 legislative co-sponsors, in addition to Sen. Jo Comerford, D-Northampton, and Rep. Mindy Domb, D-Amherst. A legislative hearing before the Joint Committee on Public Safety and Homeland Security was originally set to be held on Monday but has been indefinitely postponed due to the snowstorm.

Protections the bill lays out include preventing police and court officials from asking about immigration status unless required by law; requiring that Immigration and Customs Enforcement obtain informed consent before interviewing anyone in local custody; limiting situations where law enforcement or court officials can inform ICE of someone’s release from custody; preventing county sheriffs from acting as federal immigration agents; and mandatory training of law enforcement to comply with these regulations.

The Safe Communities Act has been a top priority for immigrant rights advocates and progressives in the state, in addition to another bill that would allow undocumented immigrants to receive a driver’s license in the state. Those advocates, including many from western Massachusetts, have protested and lobbied lawmakers for passage of the Safe Communities Act.

Locally, many communities — Amherst, Easthampton, Holyoke, Northampton and Springfield — have some kind of sanctuary policy, most enacted by local government. In Greenfield, voters approved a safe city ordinance in November after the mayor had vetoed the same measure passed by the City Council in July.

However, despite the large number of lawmakers who have signed on as co-sponsors in past sessions, the bill has never been brought to the floor of the House for a vote. Gov. Charlie Baker has also said that, while he does not oppose municipalities passing sanctuary policies, he would veto the Safe Communities Act.

Domb said the provisions included in the Safe Communities Act “assure our immigrant neighbors, friends and constituents that we will support them and we will stand by them,” adding that they will also make the state safer for everyone, regardless of immigration status.

Domb said the current lack of immigration protections allows abusers to threaten people who are undocumented with their immigration status. Advocates of sanctuary policies also say that such laws help build trust in public institutions — including law enforcement — in immigrant communities.

“It does help to make us a safer commonwealth,” Domb said, “so that people who are here as immigrants know that if they reach out to law enforcement … they don’t have to fear around their immigration status when they do that.”

Comerford also said that Massachusetts must take a stronger stand to protect immigrant rights amid a hostile federal environment.

“I believe that at a time where immigrant rights are under attack at the federal level, it’s up to Massachusetts to enact smart and just immigration legislation that protects human rights and protects all people in the commonwealth,” Comerford said, calling the bill’s regulations “common-sense measures.”

Comerford highlighted the protection of due process for immigrants as a particularly critical element of the legislation. Under current regulations, she said, Miranda warnings are not mandated in civil immigration contexts.

Sabadosa believes the bill was not adopted in its first session due to “a lot of fear and concern and a lot of general misunderstanding” surrounding local police collaboration with ICE.

But “it makes everyone safe,” Sabadosa said. “We shouldn’t have the federal government deputizing local police to do their job.”

Staff writer Dusty Christensen contributed to this report.

Jacquelyn Voghel can be reached at jvoghel@gazettenet.com.


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