Keeping Communities Safe

Original Post Text from January 2017

The events of the last few days make clear that we should expect rapid change, arbitrary harshness and continuing confusion in federal immigration policy.

That makes it essential that Massachusetts define its own clear policies as to the role of local and state criminal justice authorities in enforcing federal immigration policy. That is why I intend to sign on as a cosponsor of the “the Safe Communities Act“.

The first job of local and state governments is to keep the domestic peace. We in state and local government should, of course, generally support the work of the federal government, but should not get involved in federal work where it may conflict with local work.

In practice, making local law officers into immigration officers creates some unacceptable conflicts. If a man is abusing a woman, or if violent gangs are terrorizing a neighborhood, we want that woman or the people in that neighborhood to feel free to go the police without fear that the police will pounce on them and check their papers.

If there are many undocumented people in a community, it is especially dangerous to make the police into immigration enforcers. If everyone in the community (likely a mix of documented and undocumented) is afraid of the police, then no one will talk to the police, which, in turn, will make it impossible for the police to solve crimes and community problems.

Whatever one thinks of federal immigration policy — in every community, there is a range of views — we should not ask local police to carry the burden of enforcing it. They have more than enough to do and should not compromise their main mission which is keeping the domestic peace.

The Safe Communities Act needs public vetting as a piece of legislation. It may not do enough in some ways and may do too much in others.

We should be most concerned to separate law enforcement officers on the street from the business of immigration enforcement. The bill prohibits law enforcement officers from arresting or holding people based on immigration violations, and the latest version does attempt to go further and limit the inquiries that law enforcement officers may make as to immigration status.

It may do too much in that when a person has been lawfully arrested based on probable cause that they have committed a crime, it sharply limits the power of law enforcement to cooperate with the federal government to remove them from the community.

This might be harmful, for example, when there is overwhelming evidence that a defendant has committed a serious crime, but as a result of a procedural violation, not all the evidence can be used. Not to minimize the importance of police procedural violations – police procedures are designed to protect important rights — but today, if that defendant had an immigration problem, local law enforcement might turn him over to the federal authorities for deportation. The Safe Communities Act could prevent law enforcement from turning him over to federal authorities even if the federal authorities had lodged an immigration detainer against him – that might not be the best outcome for other immigrants who might be the likely future victims of that defendant.

We need to have a public conversation about the appropriate boundaries on the role of law enforcement in both the street context and the post-arrest context. I think the Safe Communities Act starts that conversation, so I will be pleased to cosponsor it.

Response to comments, 2/4

Thanks to all who have weighed in here. I feel supported by the strong positive response on this.

I do hear those who have strong concerns — Travis, DM, Jerome, Dee — who have engaged in multiple comments on this piece. I think it is worth emphasizing that this bill is not about defining immigration policy — that is the difficult task of the federal government. This bill is about how local law enforcement should define their jobs.

The Massachusetts Senate has spoken to some of the broader issues in this resolution.

Alert: It appears that there is a single individual operating from one Comcast network computer who is posting multiple comments on this thread under different pseudonyms — “Travis”, “William”, “Billy”.

Please contact me if you wish to take responsibility for one or more of these pseudonyms and we can clean up your message and get it out in a fair way.

Published by Will Brownsberger

Will Brownsberger is State Senator from the Second Suffolk and Middlesex District.

202 replies on “Keeping Communities Safe”

  1. I strongly urge you to cosponsor the Safe Communities Act. Thank you for your leadership.

  2. Sen. Brownsbeger

    Your decision to cosponsor the Safe Communities Act is one of moral and political courage. In these uncertain times citizens and politicians alike must defend the constitution and American values.

    thank you,
    Gabriel Camacho

  3. Sen. Brownsberger,

    I support your decision to sign on as a co-sponsor of the bill. This can hopefully serve as a positive example to the rest of the country.

  4. I agree, this starts the conversation, and while it may not be perfect, it’s something – and we desperately need that something. Thanks for co-sponsoring this.

  5. I want all members of immigrant communities to feel safe to call the police when they need to. I’m in favor of the Safe Communities Act. Thank you!

  6. I do not have an opinion on specific immigration policies at state level, But here is a suggestion. Go to the DOR and IRS and find out how much revenue Mass gains from data sharing with the Feds. If it is not much, I suggest we withdraw from that agreement. This would be jst one tool to push-back the Feds.

  7. It is comical if not pathetic to see the democratic party which cannot get enough government intervention in legal citizens life’s, become federalists. State rights now should supersede federal laws.

  8. Senator Brownsberger,

    Thank you for cosponsoring the bill, as it a step in the right direction toward galvanizing our communities against discriminatory and single-handed federal action against refugees.

    Is it possible to insert language into this bill (Safe Communities Act) that limits the contextual interaction, of ICE and Massachusetts law enforcement authorities, strictly to those already convicted of a crime? The severity (i.e. misdemeanor or felony) of the crime defines the extent of ICE access is debatable. But if such language was used, then effectively Massachusetts would be protecting *law-abiding temporary citizens* and cooperating to transfer to ICE those who are a danger to our community.

    Thank you for your efforts.

  9. If I understand this, violent criminals who are preying on their communities can be detained by police but not automatically cross-referenced with Federal Immigration lists? If a gang member comes into the MA police system he or she can’t be turned over ever? Even if convicted? Immigrants that I know have said “a lot of bad people” have come into the states along with the good. They would want protection, especially if the gang member is convicted.

  10. Excellent! Thank you for taking this initiative.

    Could we also ensure law enforcement does not inquire about religious beliefs or keep records of religious affiliations?

  11. This leads to one of two outcomes: There is no enforcement of immigration laws because there is no one to enforce them (acceptable if you believe in a borderless world). Or there will be a move to create a specialized and/or national policing agency (acceptable if you don’t believe in individual or states rights).

  12. P.S. I see lots of anecdotal evidence from interested parties in support of the idea that enforcing immigration laws cuts police off from valuable information, but very little actual evidence.

  13. How many Americans have been killed here by terrorists from those countries? Zero, isn’t it? The ban is just a way to hurt innocent people.
    We need to welcome more refugees and more immigrants, not less. I am actively working to help settle refugees here, and know that they are wonderful people who have suffered a lot.
    Please continue to support and protect immigrannts and refugees. Thank you for all you do.

    1. May I remind you that the first job of government is protecting its people. Since 9-11-01 politicians have not done a very good job in eliminating terrorists.
      This is not about religion. Irish, Italian, Portuguese and other Christians from Ireland, Italy, Portugal and other countries are not where these terrorists come from. They come from Muslim countries. Until we can figure out how to keep the bad guys out, we do not need to keep letting them all come in. Does the system need tweaking? Yes. But our Politicians haven’t done it. About time we let a civilian at least try to get it done. Extreme Jihadist call for extreme measures.
      Not all Muslims are terrorists, but you must agree that all terrorists for hundreds of years have come from Muslim countries.

      1. “…but you must agree that all terrorists for hundreds of years have come from Muslim countries.”

        This is simply not true, even under the US government’s rather narrow definition of “international terrorism.”

        For example, look at this map from the State Department’s 2000 publication “Patterns of Global Terrorism,” in which we see that MOST of the attacks of international terrorism perpetrated against the US came from South American countries, particularly Colombia.

        Here’s another map showing the number an intensity of terrorist acts over the past 45 years:

        As you can clearly see, your claim that “all terrorists for hundreds of years have come from Muslim countries” is simply false.

      2. And of course there is the example of the notorious Muslim terrorist Timothy McVeigh, who killed 168 people in Oklahoma after entering the country from … oh, right, Michigan.

    2. Enough housing in Belmont for illegals at a price they can afford?
      Enough room in schools?
      Jobs for them?
      Health care?

  14. I fully support the bill.
    We are a nation of immigrants. The police is intended to keep us safe, not to enforce harassment for political gains.

    1. Poor use of language.

      We are a nation of legal citizens, legal immigrants, and legal visitors.

      We are not a nation of anyone can walk in, swim in, tunnel in, or fly in anytime they want.

  15. I am strongly in favor of the Safe Communities Act and fully support your decision to sign on as a co-sponsor. It is not the job of local law enforcement to act as federal immigration officials. Forcing them to do so jeopardizes the willingness and ability of vulnerable individuals to report crime and thereby threatens all of our safety, regardless of immigration status.
    Thank you very much for your courageous position on this issue!

  16. Thank you for cosponsoring this bill. Protection of the community is the number one duty of local law enforcement. This includes enforcing local laws with respect to theft, violence, etc. Federal laws such as income tax violations and immigration are to be handled by Federal officials. These are my principals in this matter. Putting them into practice may not be easy to do. For instance the federal government may have information on a potential terrorist in the community. This may require a need for federal and community officials to share and act in conjunction with each other.

  17. Thank you for your email and request for our thoughts.

    I don’t want the police to become immigration officers if that’s what the act is suggesting. That scares me.

    I don’t have the time to read the whole Sage Communities Act, I’m sorry, but I am strongly against the current ban on entry of anyone from 7 countries,or any other ban for that matter.

    Charlo Maurer

  18. Thank you, Will. I read the text of the bill, and it makes me proud (once again) to live in Massachusetts. We need to be strong dealing with a maniac.

  19. Good idea, this bill. I am glad you are co-sponsoring it. Does the House agree it is needed?

    In response to your summary that it does not limit inquiries, the bill contains this provision:

    Section 41(2) No law enforcement agency shall inquire about a person’s immigration status, unless such information is required by law, or is an element in a crime for which the law enforcement agency is investigating the person.

    Does this not go far enough?

  20. Thank you for co-sponsoring a common sense tool that would facilitate policing of real, immediate threats to community safety.

  21. I completely support you in co-sponsoring this bill. Thank you, Will, for continuing to stand up for and defend the rights of all our citizens.

  22. We need to make these Executive Orders compliant with the Constitution and the Bill of rights. Any changes need to be through the established legislative process to prevent unintended consequences and this chaos experienced during the last week.
    I sup[port your proposed Safe Communities Actlegislation.

  23. Thank you, Senator Brownsberge, for opening this important conversation. I agree with the provisions of the Safe Communities Act. I think immigration status is not the purview of the police at any time in the process. Our media have shared Mr.Trump’s views, but the humane treatment of individuals is my concern. Our ancestors, with the exception of those who descended from slaves, came to this land freely and stayed, I believe in humane treatment.

  24. This is off-topic, but my son is here as an unaccompanied refugee minor (even though he is no longer a minor, he’s still here under that program). In order to collect his college benefits, he cannot become a citizen. We have been told this by multiple social workers. He was not able to vote in the last election, and will not be able to vote for many elections to come. He remains stateless. Please consider resolving the problem that unaccompanied minors in MA cannot realistically even begin to become citizens until they’re 24.

    With respect to the Safe Communities Act (SCA), obviously, we need to be able to trust and work with police and we cannot do that if we believe that they will break apart our families.

    Immigration policing is a full-time job and is considerably different than community policing. Asking community policemen to also take-on the responsibilities of immigration officials is akin to a hospital making the edict that all X-Ray techs will also draw blood because the phlebotomy dept. is overwhelmed.

    The police are not, and should not be, immigration agents.

    That much said, I agree that there is a narrow (and I hope, infrequent) problem that when a procedural violation occurs, the offender would not be removed from the community. However, I think that the police wood look to improve their ability to follow procedures rather than resting on the fall-back position that an offender could just be deported if they screw up!

  25. Will, This has my full support. I wonder if it will hold up in court if challenged by the federal government. Has anyone given an opinion on whether it falls within the constitutional rights of states to enforce such a law?

    I would fully support this as a law of the Commonwealth even if that meant it would result in a battle in the courts that we would be likely to lose. We need to stand up in this manner, asserting our “states rights” in a way I have never imagined in the past.

  26. President William Jefferson Clinton is his State of the Union address stated ” We are a nation of immigrants but we are also a nation of laws.” His comments were directed at the issue of border security and were received with a standing ovation from the democratic house and senate.

    We have established laws that need to be enforced to the letter OR the law(s) needs to be debated in congress and changed if it is the will of the people. It’s as simple as that!

    1. I completely agree, John.

      Donald Trump is bending the laws by executive order.

      But that’s not the issue in this piece — the question is who enforces immigration law. There is a federal agency for that purpose.

  27. I don’t have a good answer, but feel that it is important to define government enforcement rules and limitations. It seems desirable to have both rules (regulations) and their enforcement procedures. I wonder whether or not laws are the best place to also define which agency is to enforce the law.

    On the other hand, leaving that question unspecified and thereby putting enforcement into each community’s hands may also not be desirable.

    So perhaps after all law enforcement is best assigned to the civic body which was charged with that role in the first place, namely the local police. I come to this conclusion cautiously, but I would prefer to see a single law enforcement entity rather than several, which inevitably creates more uncertainty and confusion than we already experience.

    If the police departments of our communities were to have expanded responsibilities, then their professional training should perhaps also be expanded.

  28. Thank you for supporting this important legislature. I agree that it is imperative for community protection and interaction that everyone feel safe to talk to police. Mixing local police and immigration hinders that communication freedom.

  29. This is an excellent idea – I think too to have the input from folks who are the local police – state police – and the immigration officials and examples of what would work in the discussion – and to develop procedures and training for the entities involved – and then to include communities in learning about the act and how it would be implemented – and also to have a monitoring and reporting approach back to the community on a regular basis on how it is working – kind of a quality assusrance piece – to keep folks grounded. Ann Capoccia

  30. Please be careful, Will, because it is against Federal law to harbor an illegal alien or assist in harboring. See here:

    We have laws, Will, and you have a responsibility to US citizens. You took an oath.

    We also have immigration quotas. You think they’re too low? Come up with a new higher figure. Once you do that though, you must then acknowledge that anyone who enters illegally, above that quota, cannot stay.
    Name a figure. 10 million per year? 50 million? Does Belmont have room?

  31. Sometimes in an attempt to correct an error we go overboard and over-correct. I appreciate your reasoned approach to separation of police duties and immigration duties. Glad to have you supporting this bill.

  32. Wil
    Thank you for co sponsoring this.
    Like many citizens I have hopes
    and believe it vital to take whatever
    opportunities, in whatever places
    to raise up the “whole” of the democratic process.
    To focus on the Constitution and the legislative process comes first.
    George Kenrick
    Belmont Pct. 4

  33. It seems fairly written in terms of protecting local law enforcement, and requiring the federal government to do ‘its own work’and not depend on local to do it for them. Peter’s words say it better than I.

  34. This act has my full support. Local police should not be bound to enforcing federal agencies’ work. As a US citizen married to an immigrant, I can assure you there is enough fear and mistrust of police as it is. Local police need to be people we can trust. This act is a step in that direction.

  35. Thank you Senator Brownsberger for supporting this legislation, for explaining it, and for raising some of the issues that need to be examined. I no longer live in your district, but I continue to appreciate your thoughtful consideration of the issues we face. I support the legislation.

  36. Your summary says ” The Safe Communities Act could prevent law enforcement from turning him over to federal authorities even if the federal authorities had lodged an immigration detainer against him – that might not be the best outcome for other immigrants who might be the likely future victims of that defendant.” How often is an immigration detainer issued not because of a known criminal act but because of a suspicion of an immigration violation? My impression has been that someone turned over to immigration authorities loses many constitutional protections, not as a matter of law but because the immigration system blocks most assertions of such protections.

    tl;dr version: I support your cosponsoring this bill.

  37. Immigrants should absolutely feel secure when contacting and communicating with local police. Without this safeguard, our communities will be less united and less safe. Thank you for considering co-sponsoring this bill as a means of addressing how best to protect the rights and security of all of the inhabitants of Massachusetts in these uncertain times.

  38. There is no easy answer to this since we do need to follow both federal and state laws. I do believe though that each governing body have specific responsibilities and having our local and state law enforcement officers immigration officers is not within their scope of responsibilities. I support the Safe Communities Act.

    On a personal note, I am an immigrant who is a legal US citizen. Neither the citizens nor our local and state law enforcement are equipped to undergo legal status verification. I do not make it a daily practice to walk with my US passport to prove I am a US citizens. My husband and daughter who were born in the US do not walk with their birth certification as part of their id. Having to previously go through the process of verifying I am a citizen, it takes hours to get confirmation. Asking our local law enforcement to spend time on verifying the legal status of each individual they come across is not realistic. Random selection can be translated as profiling. Whatever the outcome, my family and I are applying for my US passport card today.

  39. Our immigration laws have been ignored. Trump wants to clamp down but hasn’t thought this one through. Think it would be best to work with the Feds and advise on how to control the influx of illegal immigrants. In Europe the rules are clear and followed. We need to be absolutely clear was the law is first, then follow through. Polly

  40. Thank you for bringing up this important piece of policy. I agree that the onus of applying federal immigration law should be on federal law enforcement and that we can improve local law enforcement by enforcing that separation. You have my support in sponsoring this bill.

  41. It is a tough balance among responsibilities of local, state, and federal law enforcement. If there could be a problem, I would err on the side of the individual’s rights. The Safe Communities Act is a good starting point. With time, it can be modified.

  42. The safe community act makes sense. It is a good beginning to the conversations we need to have on protecting civil liberties and promoting responsible law enforcement without burdening law enforcement officers.

  43. I support your cosponsorship of the Safe Communities Act. I would suggest that a person accused, even with probable cause, of a serious crime not be turned over to ICE until that person has had a trial comporting with due process and been found guilty of the crime of which he/she is accused. Our criminal law has a presumption of innocence for those accused of crime, even in the face of “overwhelming” evidence.

    1. Was thinking part 10 of the new section 41 maybe accomplishes what you want (which I agree with):

      “(10) No law enforcement agency shall provide or allow United States Department of Homeland Security agents access to booking lists or information regarding the incarceration status or release date of a person in its custody, unless such person is serving a sentence for a serious violent felony. ”

      This relates too I think to the opposing considerations the Senator raises in the end of his message. I haven’t given it a huge amount of thought, but to limit cooperation to violent offenders as determined by the same judicial process the accused non-immigrants go through strikes me as the right balance. Plus the computer programmer in me likes the efficiency / one place to fix problems aspect of there not being a separate process to determine whether enough evidence exists to brand one a violent offender for the purposes of deportation.

      Full disclosure: I’m not a citizen yet. When I become one you can count on my vote. On this issue as on so many, certain non-profits tell me to contact my representative and senators and I find you (and the federal ones often too) are one step ahead of me.

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