Police Chiefs Breathe Life Into Compromise Massachusetts Sanctuary State Bill

Printed from: https://newbostonpost.com/2018/02/20/police-chiefs-breathe-life-into-compromise-massachusetts-sanctuary-state-bill/

By Colin A. Young

The lead sponsors of a bill that would limit the ability of state and local police to work with federal immigration officials say they’ve struck a compromise with law enforcement organizations on a redrafted version of the legislation and are calling on the Legislature to pass the re-written bill into law.

The Massachusetts Major City Police Chiefs Association and the members of the Massachusetts Chiefs of Police Association’s executive and legislative committees have endorsed the new version of the so-called Safe Communities Act, state Senator Jamie Eldridge (D-Acton) and state Representative Juana Matias (D-Lawrence) said Tuesday.

The original Safe Communities Act (S 1305/H 3269) would have prohibited state and local police from asking about a person’s immigration status or from arresting someone solely because of immigration status, and would have banned police from holding immigrants on a federal Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) detainer if they had no other cause to do so.

The redrafted version of the bill would allow law enforcement to hold individuals on requested ICE detainers for up to six hours in cases where the detainee has a prior criminal record that includes convictions for “serious violent offenses” like sexual assault, abuse, drug trafficking, or domestic violence, Eldridge’s office said.

Police agencies would also be allowed to honor ICE detainer requests for up to six hours if the detainee is under arrest for terrorism charges and the state Department of Correction would be authorized to notify ICE when it releases or plans to release inmates who serve time for serious violent offenses.

“The redraft of this bill now allows for what we view as a more effective balance of both building and improving trust in our respective communities while simultaneously enhancing public safety across the entire State,” the Massachusetts Chiefs of Police Association said in a statement.

The Chiefs of Police Association said the redraft is “a commonsense, policy prudent, and safety-orientated approach” to addressing what it called a “gap” that was created when the Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court ruled in July that Massachusetts law does not permit officials to detain immigrants solely at the request of federal immigration officials.

“Without this bill, State and local police would remain unable to detain any arrestee for any period of time despite the issuance of a federal ICE detainer, even an individual with a demonstrated propensity for committing violence based on their history of prior felony convictions on their record, to allow for the possibility of federal ICE agents to conduct an interview and possibly take the arrestee into federal custody if the circumstances were warranted,” the organization said in its statement. “This important legislative change will absolutely enhance public safety in our respective communities by preventing dangerous individuals who meet the aforementioned criteria from being released back into our cities and towns to potentially re-offend and commit further acts of violence.”

Matias, a freshman lawmaker from Lawrence who has championed the Safe Communities Act in the House, said the revised version of the bill “will enhance the ability of our local law enforcement officers to maintain public safety, build trust, and keep our communities safe.”

“From the day I filed this bill, I’ve said that it both strengthens public safety and protects our economy, by ensuring Massachusetts resources are not used to help deport hardworking undocumented immigrants,” Eldridge said in a statement. “This strong endorsement by our police chiefs underscores that, and I am eager to work with my colleagues in the legislature, as well as Governor Baker, to get this critical public safety bill signed into law.”

Before it was redrafted, the bill had garnered a significant amount of support within the Legislature, although it never emerged for a vote in either branch. Critics have derided it as de facto “sanctuary state” legislation that would put law-abiding citizens at risk.

Governor Charlie Baker, a Republican who had been steadfast in his opposition to the original Eldridge/Matias bill, has pitched his own bill (H 3870) that would allow state and local police to honor requests from ICE to detain individuals already in state custody on criminal charges or for sentences related to past violent crimes.

The governor’s 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, or has been convicted of a non-immigration related felony or certain state crimes like domestic violence, sexual abuse, or human trafficking.

Asked last week whether he sees any room to compromise on the Safe Communities Act now that the police chiefs have gotten behind a new version of the bill, Baker said he would have to read the redrafted bill before commenting and reiterated his concerns with the original bill.

The original version of the Eldridge/Matias bill was sent to study by the Joint Committee on Public Safety and Homeland Security, a designation that usually marks the end of a bill’s journey for that legislative session. But Eldridge and Matias said they “are currently working with their colleagues to get the redrafted language passed by the Massachusetts Legislature.”

“It is our collective hope that both the Senate and the House will act favorably on this important public safety legislation and submit it to the Governor for his astute review and consideration and ultimate signature to make this bill become law across our Commonwealth,” the Police Chiefs Associations said in a statement.