Sanctuary State Bill Opponents Say It Would Make Massachusetts Less Safe

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Previously rejected by Massachusetts lawmakers, Safe Communities Act proponents made their case for more than seven hours at Gardner Auditorium in the State House on Friday as to why the state should not respect federal immigration law.

The bill aims to prevent Massachusetts law enforcement and court personnel from asking people about their immigration status; limit communication with Immigration and Customs Enforcement, including not letting the federal agency know when people would be released from custody; and end so-called 287g agreements that let Massachusetts jails and prisons house federal immigration detainees.

Proponents of measure (Massachusetts Senate Bill 1401) got the overwhelming majority of speaking time. They included people from organizations such as the ACLU-Massachusetts, Jewish Community Relations Council Boston, Massachusetts Teachers Association, the pro-immigrant MIRA Coalition, the Massachusetts Business Immigrants Coalition, and the Somerville Police Department, among others.

“No human  being is illegal,” said state Representative Liz Miranda (D-Boston), a supporter of the bill, during testimony Friday, January 24 before the Joint Committee on Public Safety and Homeland Security of the Massachusetts Legislature.

Miranda said the bill would encourage illegal immigrants to report crimes if they were the victims of them. “We cannot let our neighbors live in fear,” she said.

It was a sentiment echoed by Massachusetts Teachers Association president Merrie Najimi who complained of having to hear testimony from “billionaire-funded outsiders” and people who were “fearmongering.”

“I want you to really take seriously the note that no human being is illegal and immigrants do not have fundamental criminal character traits tied to who they are as immigrants,” she said. “It’s through love and not hate that we protect our Commonwealth, and the Safe Communities Act does that.”

Somerville Mayor Joe Curtatone testified alongside his city’s chief of police, David Fallon, that the bill promotes public safety.

“We can restore community trust in public institutions by avoiding entangling immigration matters as we protect due process for all,” Curtatone said. “As mayor, I’m proud to say that Somerville has been a sanctuary city since 1987.”

Fallon said he believes being a sanctuary city makes Somerville safer, but said he was not sure if the Massachusetts State Police support the proposed legislation or not.

Opponents of the bill agreed that safety is an important goal — but they said sanctuary status would make Massachusetts less safe.

This included Maureen Maloney, vice president of Advocates for Victims of Illegal Alien Crime, whose son Matthew Denice, 23, was killed in 2011 by an illegal immigrant driving drunk.

“Our family as we knew it was destroyed and we are now permanently separated,” she said. “My son is dead because of the lax immigration laws and the fact that legislators and judges have put illegal aliens ahead of the protection of Americans.”

Along similar lines, Donald Rosenberg, president of Advocates for Victims of Illegal Alien Crime, said:  “The reality for any politician who supports sanctuary policy is they are willing to sacrifice American, legal immigrant, and even illegal immigrant lives to advance their political careers or are just ignorant of the facts.”

Jessica Vaughan, director of policies for the Center for Immigration Studies, said Congress properly has authority over immigration policy, not state legislatures.

“These bills attempt to substitute the opinion of a group of state lawmakers for the federal immigration enforcement system stipulated in our Constitution, enacted by the U.S. Congress, and enforced by our federal agencies,” she said. “These bills would decree that only some of the so-called ‘worst of the worst’ non-citizen offenders can be subject to deportation – and only if they can be caught after local officials let them back on the streets. 

“Supporters of these bills want to deny federal immigration officers the ability to do their job – a job that contributes enormously to public safety, and a job that is necessary to preserve the integrity of our legal immigration system,” she added.

Unhappy with Vaughan’s testimony, committee co-chairman Hank Naughton (D-Worcester) attempted to discredit her by pointing out that the  Southern Poverty Law Center has designated the Center for Immigration Studies as a hate group.

Conservatives in recent years have countered that the Southern Poverty Law Center is left wing and anti-Christian, and itself a hate group.

The 2018 Massachusetts state budget bill initially contained a provision that would make it a sanctuary state, but it was removed before the bill passed.

Massachusetts Govwenor Charlie Baker has previously stated that he would veto a Sanctuary State bill if it came to his desk. His press office did not respond to an email request for comment on Friday morning when asked to comment on the day’s particular hearing.