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.
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.
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