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. What you wrote makes clear the policy conflict: federal versus state/municipalities. Thank you.

    Then, equally, do our State and Local police stop facilitating the unmarked black helicopter, army reserve staffed, USDEA raids on growing marajuana?

    I think yes in both cases.

  2. I am very glad that you are doing this. I had intended to contact you and suggest you do something of this sort. Don’t back down!!

  3. Here’s an example:
    If a person comes into this country unlawfully, is driving, and is pulled over for a driving violation. What should the police do? They can’t cite them for anything, because they don’t have a license, and they can’t cite them for no license because they aren’t in the system.
    To me it’s simple. They are arrested and given to ICE. That’s not a burden on law enforcement; because it probably makes their jobs a little easier, and us safer (at least on the road).

  4. The basic principle here–separating immigration from local law enforcement–seems sound to me, and urgent in this present climate. The exception you raise–the suspected criminal who may not be prosecuted due to technical procedural flaws–feels exotic to me, not worth crafting a legal exemption around, and I would also question using deportation in lieu of criminal justice to ‘punish’ people who can’t otherwise be criminally convicted–a slippery slide down the wrong slope.

  5. Immigration is a FEDERAL responsibility. However, if the Federal Government thinks enforcement of very controversial policies should be done by LOCAL POLICE then in effect the Federal Government seeks to FEDERALIZE State & Local Officials and States, Cities, Towns, no longer have any rights. And we then live by Executive fiat and give our democracy a pass. So no, the State needs to step in and enforce the State Right for its own policies regarding law enforcement that is largely paid for by State TAXES and State taxpayers. The Federal Government has no business trying to federalize our State Police of local police. Frankly, Mr. Trump created this mess and his orders may not even be Constitutional.

  6. I read the statute and have the following thoughts:
    (5) No officer or employee of a law enforcement agency shall continue to detain a person solely for immigration purposes or solely on the basis of a civil immigration detainer request or an administrative warrant once that person has been released from local custody.
    “civil immigration detainer request”, At this point, are the officers aware that this is an illegal immigrant? If so, are they harboring an illegal immigrant?
    “administrative warrant”, the word “warrant” makes me worried that now, the officers are somehow not following some kind of direct order, which I think would put the officer in the position of either following the Safe Communities Act or following a directive.

    In (8), if the officers are aware that the person in custody is illegal (they still might not be), wouldn’t they be harboring an illegal?

    (9) is good, we want to inform the person what is going on, but once there is a directive from the government that the person must be deported, what will happen? Are the officers supposed to harbor the illegal?

    in (10), aren’t booking lists public information? How is my local paper publishing arrest reports each week if not? Obviously, if booking lists are public information, then I don’t see how the law enforcement agency could decline the request for the booking list.

  7. The portion about law enforcement officers is appropriate, but my concern is the lack of detail concerning the qualifications and behavior of immigration officers, in addition to how many would be available nationwide and locally to perform the tasks that might be needed.

  8. I read the statute and have the following thoughts:
    (5) No officer or employee of a law enforcement agency shall continue to detain a person solely for immigration purposes or solely on the basis of a civil immigration detainer request or an administrative warrant once that person has been released from local custody.
    “civil immigration detainer request”, At this point, are the officers aware that this is an illegal immigrant? If so, are they harboring an illegal immigrant?
    “administrative warrant”, the word “warrant” makes me worried that now, the officers are somehow not following some kind of direct order, which I think would mean the officer would have to choose whether to follow the Safe Communities Act or follow a directive from the US government.

    In (8), if the officers are aware that the person in custody is illegal (and it seems they would be, since the language says “for immigration enforcement purposes”), wouldn’t they be harboring an illegal?

    Also, I’m assuming that DHS can conduct other interviews that are not related to immigration enforcement in the way they were done prior to the Act taking effectt?

    (9) is good, we want to inform the person what is going on, but once there is a directive from the government that the person must be deported, what will happen? Are the officers supposed to harbor the illegal?

    in (10), aren’t booking lists public information? How is my local paper publishing arrest reports each week if not? Obviously, if booking lists are public information, then I don’t see how the law enforcement agency could decline the request for the booking list.

  9. This is a very serious issue which needs to be addressed as soon as possible given the unsettling climate, and I am for open and honest discussion to set in place a good standard procedure that keeps a good balance of right and wrong, and safety within the community.

    I support you Will in doing the right thing with all my confidence in your good judgment
    My fear is that these executive orders are running amok with our state and city governance, and if we allow this, we will be loosing the most important freedoms we adhere to. OUR COMMUNITIES.
    Police should not be enforcing any form of illegal deportation. A crime of robbery is just that and should be handled as such. This is going to move into many gray and black areas. Hopefully our thoughtful representatives will hold all of our communities with the respect and safety in good judgement.

  10. I support this, it looks good to me.

    I don’t want people to fear to talk to local police, and I am certain that the safety “risks” of immigrants and refugees to the rest of us have been grossly inflated for political purposes (I can read mortality stats — my shower is more dangerous than “terrorists”, us crashing into each other in cars is 100x that, and my own overeating is 10x riskier than that).

  11. Good points! But there is yet another reason that our state and city law enforcement officers should not be involved in enforcing immigration matters. It is very difficult for anyone to know by looking at a person whether he/she is an American citizen. Immigration lawyers are the ones who know how to assess that and it is not always easy and quick for them to do it. Just because a person is unable to say what his/her immigration status is does not make him/her an illegal alien and that is often the case. For example, the child with an American citizen step parent used to be able to acquire citizenship through that parent — did the child know that? No. The immigration attorney working on behalf of the child would have. Therefore, the police should not be authorized to question the immigration status of a person; you cannot tell a person’s immigration status by looking at him/her or listening to his/her accent. Also, as a woman of Scandinavian heritage, it is extremely unlikely that the police would ever stop ME to question ME about my immigration status. There is no way to implement this suggested empowerment of the police in a useful manner and I think the city and state police force should perform the job it was trained to do.

  12. State and local role should always comply with the arrest of anyone who has committed any violation of the law, does not matter what type of law. Any enforcer agency, no matter State or Locals, should be charge of a DERELICTION OF DUTY if not comply or follow lawful orders or national regulations.

  13. Innocent until proven guilty. Only allow the local police to cooperate with
    immigration authorities after a person has been convicted. Allowing police to use perceived immigration status as leverage in an unproven charge is very dangerous to the integrity of our legal system.

  14. Your reasoning appears sound; I generally trust your judgement (and certainly not the current POTUS).
    We should either respect immigrants, or give it all back to Native Americans.

  15. Yes- Thank you for cosponsoring this legislation. It is extremely important. People living in the US need to be able to work with law enforcement, not hide from them.
    Kim McMaken-Marsh

  16. Enforce the law at all levels. It’s absurd that there is a litmus test as to which illegal immigrants can stay. Matt Denice is dead because of Politicians catering to Illegals and failing to enforce our laws. We have US Citizenship for a reason. We have borders for a reason. The cost of illegal immigration is great to the US economy. 62% of Americans don’t have $1000 in savings to cover a major expense so why this is even a question to debate is shameful.

  17. Thanks for providing this nuanced analysis of the Safe Communities Act. I support your support of it. I want people, regardless of their status, to feel like they can rely on their local policy. Thanks for doing what you can do at the state level to resist the negative policies of this new administration.

  18. Very glad you’re on board with this act – in order to oversee the delicate balance between enforcement authorities.

  19. Many politicians and judges caused our illegal immigration problem by not enforcing our current immigration laws. In addition, politicians enabled the illegals to receive tax funded benefits. Word of lawlessness and handouts spread very fast. Hence our present and increasing problems. Is a $20 trillion dollar debt not enough to convince us we are heading for economic collapse trying to save the world? Illegal border entry and visa overstays must stop for us to survive as a nation. U. S. Citizenship is a privilege, not a right to anyone. A country without borders is not a country and will fail. Our immigration laws protect us from illegals who are dangerous, unhealthy, and have no intention of assimilating to our culture. Failure to enforce our laws and sanctuary cities encourage illegal immigration. Where did being nice get the American Indians? As with the door to your own house, control must be maintained who enters our country. Pres. Trump will not deport law abiding illegals, but he will surely close the borders, eliminate visa overstaying, remove them from tax based assistance, have them register and initiate immigration procedures, and deport criminals. For the survival and safety of our country, these new initiatives must be supported fully. We must learn from our mistakes and the mistakes of other countries. Massachusetts laws for benefits are loopholed in that they only require residency. Residency is a very easy threshold to overcome. Our benefit laws should in addition to having residency, should also require proof of citizenship.

  20. Thank you for signing on as a cosponsor of this bill. I do not think that the bill goes too far, and you make excellent points about the conflicting responsibilities of police officers, whose primary responsibility must always be to local residents, even if they are noncitizens or undocumented.

  21. I think we (the state officials and legislative members) should not worry about wether or not the federal government can deport any state resident. Let Massachusetts law govern how we treat state residents and let the federal government control what actions it proposes to take.

    I am much more concerned by the legality of the federal government actions than I am about the few cases, within our state, where there is a procedural problem about an undocumented alien.

    I believe the majority of the non-citizens, in our state, are productive people who benefit our society rather than harming any of us.

  22. I think all of our local and state police should attend the US Holocaust Museums training for law enforcement. Unfortunately, our federal government seems to be heading in the direction of asking us to do some unthinkable things. We need to be able to keep everyone safe. And state and local law enforcement should be sources of protection not intimidation.

  23. I very much support the intent of this bill. The only time our local and state police should be handing anyone over to federal authorities for potential deportation is if they have been convicted for committing a serious crime.

    1. So you are going to wait for the police to do something until one of them hits you over the head and you’re in a coma ?
      It’ll be too late then ?

      Or like Kate Steinle walking with her father in San Francisco was shot by an illegal who the San Francisco police refused to hold for ICE.

  24. It is likely you deserve praise for your co-sponsorship of the generically named “Safe Communities Act.” After all, who opposes safe communities? Perhaps this is the best you can do legally, perhaps we can do much more. As I am not an expert in the specifics of the Act, I will need to trust you with the details. However I cannot offer you my trust or support without a clear and unequivocal statement of your opposition to Trump’s executive order and travel ban. Mayor Walsh, Congressman Capuano, and both Senators Warren and Markey have participated in rallies and spoken unequivocally in opposition and resistance to the ban. What is your position? What will you fight for?

    Like the invasion of Iraq in response to non-existent WMDs, Trump’s ban is the wrong answer to the wrong question. It is racist to scapegoat and vilify the innocent and it is unconstitutional to target Muslims. It will not and cannot make us safer. Governor Baker courts neutrality with tepid statements, but I believe history will not be kind to those who sat by waiting for the other shoe to drop. Certainly cowardly or racist politicians will not be receiving my support or vote.

    We need strong leadership now, I hope you will consider making stronger public statements of condemnation, and personal appearances at rallies in opposition to racist policies.

    1. Why is it called “The Safe Communities Act?”
      It is an immigration enforcement act. Are you implying that immigration creates unusual safety issues in our community? Do immigrants and refugees, documented or not, pose an increased threat? Is there data supporting this?
      This name can easily be construed as supporting Trump’s unsubstantiated assertions that immigrants pose an imminent threat to US Citizens.

  25. Will,
    As the son of a woman who came here as a refugee from a country where asking for papers was a horrible threat, I appreciate your thoughtful response to this. There will never be a perfect solution, but our country has been built on a purposeful bias toward the rights of the accused with the understanding that the guilty sometimes go free. Criminals should be handled in the criminal justice system and those with immigration issues in the immigration system. The crossover should probably only happen when a criminal trips up immigration status rather then the other way around.

  26. Thank you for co-sponsoring this bill. Those who violate the law will be prosecuted through the criminal justice system. That seems sufficient in terms of public safety. Intimidating ordinary citizens undermines public safety by creating mis-trust with law enforcement.

  27. Just read over this with my daughters. It’s thorough and well-written. We definitely support it. Thank you!

  28. If a individual is arrested for criminal violations separate from an immigration violation local authorities should be encouraged to work with the federal government. In the same sense if someone has a criminal warrant out by the federal government local authorities should make every effort to cooperate.
    Those with criminal violations, if allowed to continued free in our neighborhoods both in danger the residents and also give those (Trump) the excuse they need to attack the whole immigrant population.

  29. I am very glad that you are cosponsoring the bill. I believe it is critical to pass this legislation especially in light of current events. Regarding the issue you raised, I think that in a case where someone is accused of a serious crime, an accusation, is not the same as being found guilty of that crime, so I am comfortable in that regard with the way the current Safe Communities Act has been drafted. it seems like a slippery slope to begin to carve out exception areas based upon accusation rather than conviction.

  30. Definitely important to begin the conversation about implementing the best policies to protect the peace of our local communities.

  31. Immigration enforcement should be conducted by the federal government. All levels of American government should put Americans first. The American government, in all its forms, needs to protect the American citizens’ safety, jobs, homes, finances & education. That is what the government is there for. Why are so many American citizens homeless while so much of government resources is spent on foreigners?

    1. Who says “so much of the government resources is spent on foreigners?” That’s a hard number to break out, but I have not seen numbers that would establish that “foreigners” are taking up a lot of the budget at any level of government.

  32. Great Job again Will.
    Definitely the local police would not get into enforcement of federal immigration laws.
    Local police work with the community. That relationship helps keep us safe and helps us to work together.

  33. Will, I support your co-sponsorship of the act and appreciate, as ever, your thoughtful and carefully considered response to this situation.

  34. This story is from around 2010.

    Poetic Justice: Massachusetts State Rep. Mike Moran (D-Libturd) Rear-Ended by Drunk Driving Illegal Alien…

    It’s great to see a liberal Democrat receive the benefits of the illegal immigration he supports…

    BOSTON (FOX 25 / MyFoxBoston.com) – A serious car crash involving a local lawmaker and a suspected illegal immigrant is threatening to reignite already heated debates about immigration on Beacon Hill, according to police reports obtained by FOX25.

    State Rep. Mike Moran of Brighton was rear-ended by a suspected illegal immigrant this week. The suspect was wearing a Mexican costume at the time of the crash where he slammed into Moran at 60 mph.

    The suspect, 27-year-old Isaias Naranjo, was charged with driving under the influence of alcohol, leaving the scene of an accident and driving without a valid license. According to the report, when told of the serious charges he would be facing, he just laughed.

    What I remember, he was dressed in a mariachi outfit and in a drunkin’ stupor told the police that “You can’t do anything to me.” The is because Gov. DeVille Deval $10,000 Damask Drapes Patrick who also wanted $7500 per day to “push” the Olypics in Boston, would cooperate with the Feds. to round up DANGEROUS illegal aliens.

    Read more at https://www.liveleak.com/view?i=9a5_1274730520#1Go6Bpu9uuPF25fR.99

  35. Thanks, Will, once again for your explanation. I support keeping the roll of the police on community safety. They have no training and no time to be dealing with immigration issues. These issues are going to get more complicated as we go forward.

  36. Why is it called “The Safe Communities Act?”
    It is an immigration enforcement act. Are you implying that immigration creates unusual safety issues in our community? Do immigrants and refugees, documented or not, pose an increased threat? Is there data supporting this?
    This name can easily be construed as supporting Trump’s unsubstantiated assertions that immigrants pose an imminent threat to US Citizens.

  37. Thank you for cosponsering this legislation. I support it without reservation. ( i have first hand knowledge of a high school student in Massachusetts, here with a slightly older sibling, and their parents can’t return from one of the “Middle East 7”)

  38. I do think that it is something that we have to thoughtfully and carefully move forward with. I share the concerns voiced and I would add another. Having a well staffed police force is important. If we are adding new responsibilities do different towns and cities have adequate police staffing to absorb that work?

    And finally, in the current climate I would want to make sure any information gathered was not used with intent to limits individuals’ freedoms.

    1. Do you realize that if the City and the State don’t follow the Federal Law, you won’t have a “fully staffed” police force ?

      Rep. Culberson of TX will cut off Federal police funding and continue with other kinds of funding that will affect everyone’s life. He said he will also ask for a “refund” for any Federal funds already given.

      The State has already had trouble balancing the budget for the last 2 years. There were “buy outs” for State workers, hiring freezes and they canceled the “sales tax free holiday” that we usually have in August to buy our kids back to school stuff.

      So with a shortfall, will the police that are left standing, start giving out traffic tickets to make up for shortfalls ? Will you or I be stuck getting a “surchargeable” ticket leading to 6 years of $600 per year surcharge plus higher auto insurance rates ?

      This has happened before with the Feds demanding we mandate the “seatbelt” law in our State. They cut off Federal Highway Funds until we complied.

      Are you willing to sacrifice all this for a person that’s not supposed to be here ? You’d be better off donating to “Save the Children” or another charity to foreigners.

      Here’s the link to Rep. Culberson’s plan that is ready to ROLL. http://culberson.house.gov/news/email/show.aspx?ID=DAPZGKKVTIK4CMPCOJB23TS6PU

  39. I support the proposal and am open to modifications which protect communities. An example is repeat charges or convictions for violent behavior would be reasonable case for deportation.

    If someone is convicted of a felony and is undocumented i am also very ok with deporting them.

  40. I agree with your support for the Safe Communities Act and compliment your decision to co-sponsor. It is an important step in putting the Commonwealth on record as opposing use of the local police as immigration enforcers, for the good reasons that you state. Particularly given the long-fought contentious nature of immigration policy at the federal level, it would be wise for our state to detach itself from the enforcement role of a policy subject to wild and unfortunate changes dependent on personalities of those in power. Overall, I support the terms of the legislation as currently drafted.

  41. Thank you , Will, for cosponsoring the SCA.
    Local police need to continue fostering trust through even more community policing rather than becoming spies for the Feds. I know too many immigrants already who would never willingly call the police or the fire department for help in times of need.

  42. Will, I support the Safe Communities Act and appreciate that you are co-sponsoring it.

    Amanda Tarbet, Allston

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