Speaker: Massachusetts Communities Can Adopt Their Own Sanctuary Policies Without State Law

Printed from: https://newbostonpost.com/2018/07/21/speaker-massachusetts-communities-can-adopt-their-own-sanctuary-policies-without-state-law/

By Michael P. Norton

With activists furious about the failure of an immigration law enforcement measure, Massachusetts House Speaker Robert DeLeo expects the House will spend the coming months evaluating legislative options.

“It’s important to be clear:  there’s nothing in state law that precludes municipalities from adopting their own policies regarding their interactions with ICE,” DeLeo said in a statement, referring to the federal Immigration and Customs Enforcement agency. “Where consensus eluded us was to force municipalities into a statewide policy. Different communities have different approaches. I wholly anticipate the House will spend the next few months evaluating what can be done on a state level.”

The state budget compromise approved Wednesday by the Massachusetts House and Senate dropped a Senate-approved plan that would have prohibited local law enforcement from entering collaboration agreements with ICE, known as 287(g) agreements, and generally prevented police from inquiring into people’s immigration status. It was a pared back version of legislation know as the Safe Communities Act, which Governor Charlie Baker had threatened to veto if it ever reached his desk.

The Democrat-controlled Legislature’s abandonment of the proposal, a version of which was supported by at least 70 House Democrats, drew harsh criticism from supporters, including immigrant rights advocates and the two Democrats running for governor.

Activists reacted Thursday after Andrew Gordon, 350 Mass legislative manager of the Better Future Project, announced that no one from Speaker DeLeo’s office could meet with them. A crowd of about 200 people had filled the hallway outside DeLeo’s office to rally support for clean energy measures and efforts to restrict local cooperation with federal immigration enforcement officials.

House Democrats, who outnumber Republicans 117-34, said they were unable to achieve consensus on the matter. The so-called Safe Communities Act has gained attention on Beacon Hill in the wake of President Donald Trump’s efforts to crack down on illegal immigration, a core campaign pledge prior to his election.

State Representative Denise Provost of Somerville, a Democrat, tweeted her disappointment Wednesday, describing herself as “heartbroken and stunned that the MA House would not offer minimal protections to those targeted by the Trump administration.” She wrote, “The conference committee budget offers not a single protection against ruthless federal immigration policy and I voted against the budget in protest.”

Cambridge Democrat state Representative Mike Connolly was even more pointed. “I am disgusted and disappointed that the FY19 budget agreed to by @SpeakerDeLeo and @jeffrey_sanchez leaves out the basic immigrant protections approved by the state Senate in May. History will judge the House for being complicit in Trump’s racist deportation machine,” Connolly wrote on Twitter.

Connolly, Provost, and state Representative Juana Matias (D-Lawrence), who is running for Congress, voted against the state budget to signal their opposition to the measure’s failure.

“What happened yesterday here in this building was disgraceful,” Matias said at a rally outside the State House on Thursday.

She continued, “I come from an immigrant family. My father was an undocumented immigrant when he arrived in this country. And we have failed time and time again and we continue to be silent when we have a president and we have a GOP and an administration that’s terrorized immigrant communities across this country and it’s unacceptable that Massachusetts continues to stand utterly by without standing up and saying, ‘We will not behave in this way. We will ensure immigrant families live here with dignity, respect and without fear.'”

On Tuesday, the Massachusetts Communities Action Network plans to hold a protest. Along with the Massachusetts Immigrant and Refugee Advocacy Coalition, activists will gather on the Grand Staircase of the State House to hold a vigil, lamenting what they consider to be a “lack of action and moral courage” from legislators. The activists also plan to deliver black ribbons to legislators as a symbol of their protest.

Not everyone was displeased with the outcome on Wednesday. Many Republicans and some conservative Democrats opposed the idea of making Massachusetts a “sanctuary state,” and preferred a more law-and-order approach to illegal immigration.

“Good news on the State Budget front. We finally have a budget coming to the floor today and it does not contain language making Massachusetts a sanctuary state,” Billerica Republican Marc Lombardo tweeted.

Baker on Wednesday reiterated his opposition to the measure.

“We did not feel that that would enhance the quality of public safety in the commonwealth,” Baker told reporters at an event in Newton, according to a video posted by MassLive. “We’ve made as series of proposals to the Legislature that built off the Obama administration policies with respect to public safety that we would prefer to see the Legislature adopt but we do not believe making Massachusetts a sanctuary state was a good idea.”

On Wednesday, DeLeo said he did not believe any immigrants in Massachusetts would be put in imminent danger by inaction on Beacon Hill.

“I think that with the present laws that we have on the books here in Massachusetts, I think you will have those protections,” the Winthrop Democrat said. “I do not see any danger to folks here in Massachusetts in terms of the breaking of the laws of arrests or the like, but, again, to those folks I hear them I hear them loudly and clearly. I hear their advocacy and again I feel this is going to have to be an issue, not only with me but I think with a lot of members of the House in terms of the future.”

In his statement Thursday, DeLeo concluded, “I look forward to a continued conversation with Members and stakeholders about what can be done at the state level.”

[Chris Triunfo contributed reporting]