Governor Says He’d Veto Sanctuary State Amendment

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By Andy Metzger

Governor Charlie Baker would veto a Massachusetts Senate budget provision limiting state law enforcement’s role in enforcement of federal immigration laws, he said Thursday.

The measure — a pared-down version of the so-called Safe Communities legislation — passed the Senate 25-13 and was added to the Senate’s fiscal year 2019 budget bill late Wednesday night.

“I don’t support it and I would veto it if it ends up coming to my desk,” Baker said after a Memorial Day event on Boston Common. “I’ve said many times that I think decisions like this belong with local law enforcement.”

The provision would bar state and local police from inquiring into someone’s immigration status and prevent collaborations known as 287G agreements where state and county officials are essentially deputized by the federal Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE). Department of Correction officials would be able to continue those agreements under the provision. The legislation would require state and local officials to share immigration documents with individuals within their custody and inform them that they do not need to talk to federal immigration officials.

In his remarks Thursday, Baker spoke out against legislation prohibiting communication between ICE and local officials.

“I do not believe the state should be stepping into this. And I especially don’t believe that we should pass legislation that makes it impossible for the state of Massachusetts — with criminals who are currently in our prisons and have been convicted of terrible crimes and may be here illegally — that we should not be allowed to talk to the feds. I think that’s ridiculous and outrageous and I don’t support it,” Baker said.

An Acton Democrat, state Senator Jamie Eldridge, the sponsor of the amendment, said prohibiting communication between ICE and local officials is not part of the provision adopted in the Senate on Wednesday. Eldridge suggested that the governor has not actually read the amendment and said he is “troubled” by the Republican governor’s rhetoric about unauthorized immigrants.

“His language has been very much in line with Donald Trump’s rhetoric regarding undocumented immigrants,” Eldridge told the News Service, saying, “I hope he reads the amendment.”

The amendment (#1147) states, “Nothing in this section shall prohibit or restrain the commonwealth, any political subdivision thereof, or any employee or agent of the commonwealth or any of its political subdivisions, from sending to, or receiving from, any local, state, or federal agency, information regarding citizenship or immigration status, consistent with Section 1373 of Title 8 of the United States Code.”

“Governor Baker opposes a sanctuary state and this amendment does not address the issue of creating clear guidelines for state and local law enforcement to work with federal immigration officials to detain violent and dangerous criminals convicted of heinous crimes like rape and murder, as the governor’s legislation would,” Baker communications director Elizabeth Guyton said. Last summer, Baker filed legislation (H 3870) that would allow state officials to honor detainer requests from ICE.

Senators debated the issue Wednesday night, and Senate Minority Leader Bruce Tarr predicted Eldridge’s proposal “won’t be considered by the House, would be rejected by the governor and is not viable in this building.”

House Speaker Robert DeLeo has previously said the House lacks consensus on how to address the interplay between immigration officials and state and local law enforcement, and on Thursday he indicated that dynamic remains the same.

“Not a whole lot has changed in terms of the general feelings of the members,” DeLeo told reporters on Thursday after the Memorial Day event. He said, “Sure, things can change but as of right now that is not one of the issues I have been hearing from members about.”

The Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court changed how state law enforcement interacts with federal immigration agents when the court ruled last July that state officials cannot detain someone solely at the request of ICE.

“The prudent course is not for this court to create, and attempt to define, some new authority for court officers to arrest that heretofore has been unrecognized and undefined,” the court wrote in its unsigned opinion in Commonwealth v. Sreynuon Lunn. “The better course is for us to defer to the Legislature to establish and carefully define that authority if the Legislature wishes that to be the law of this Commonwealth.”

Touting what he called a “strong vote” on the proposal Wednesday, Eldridge said he is optimistic about the proposal gaining traction.

“I think it’s really just the beginning,” Eldridge said. He said, “We’ll see what happens in the conference committee.”