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. Thank you for sending the video update on Safe Communities, outside the Facebook platform.

    It seems this legislation is at an impasse. That may be a good thing. If the issue is one of trust, it is a new day. It is President Trump’s turn. He was elected (and is moving with consensus from American electorate) to secure our borders (wall etc.), tighten immigration laws (like E-verify, end chain migration, lottery etc.), and meaningfully enforce those laws to get rid of the criminal element that is here illegally. That is the best way to restore and regain the trust of the American people.

    As for the communities of non-criminal illegals here, they should have a choice. I don’t buy the argument that these people are in the shadows and afraid of coming out.

    Our company once hosted a former Premier of a middle eastern country. He told me he was very insecure at home because of assassination attempts against him in his own country. He felt completely safe in USA however, and welcomed (was thankful for them) to be searched, to have his passport taken, to be questioned (he was once strip searched), because it demonstrated we were serious about adhering to our laws and screening out the bad guys. He has since passed away but I can imagine his reaction to sanctuary jurisdictions in this county.

    If you want to ensure greater trust and security for all, end sanctuary cities that erode our laws, create confusion and instead, encourage local police to fully support and work with/communicate and collaborate with ICE in the enforcement of our immigration laws.

  2. The heartless policies of the Trump administration cause fear and trauma for innocent children, even 5 year-olds, who do not deserve it.
    I felt obliged to calm my students by telling them that I would stand up for them. I do not know, or wish to know, the immigration status of those in my classes.
    It would be even worse if I were a law enforcement officer ordered to arrest children.
    Our neighbors who are working to give their families a path to success need our support and we need them for the work they do.
    A large majority of U.S. citizens and of Congress have a very different approach from that of the president to DACA. Trump’s statement that he loves and wants to protect DACA is belied by his holding them hostage until he gets something in return.
    Demand a clean DACA bill vote now. Stop spreading fear and hopelessness and get on with building our nation together.

  3. I am so dismayed that Governor Baker has lied and misrepresented the Safe Communities Act and has not stood up for Massachusetts families. I have repeatedly phoned his office only to be able to leave a voicemail. I with my whole heart support this small bit of comfort for families so that they know that the people of Massachusetts welcome all and support everyone’s rights.

  4. I am deeply opposed to any resolution or law that declares that Massachusetts supports illegal immigration by directing non-cooperation with federal immigration authorities. The residents of Massachusetts have always shown great respect and support of immigrants living in our communities. Nothing to my knowledge has changed that to this day. I am troubled that fringe left and special interest groups have directly influenced members of this Senate to use the Massachusetts legislation process as a political platform to advance their national agendas and exert their radical beliefs on all who live here. They do not speak for all as they so often claim that they do. They certainly do not speak for me. The continual push to pass nationally politically motivated laws onto the MA commonwealth is widening existing divisions among the people of this state. How people choose to view illegal immigration does not change the fact that it is a federal crime. Federal immigration laws play a vital role in the protection of all citizens. We are and always have been a nation of laws. To choose to be non-compliant with our laws will only lead to further lawlessness and then anarchy. I do not believe that this is the right thing to teach the youth of our communities. If people oppose any laws, then they have the right to protest and work to change them, not openly violate them. That is how our system has worked successfully since this country has come to exist. It is not the MA state senate’s responsibility or its business to debate or pass judgement on the merits of federal laws. That is the role of our elected US senators. The state senate should remain focused on the many issues and challenges facing the commonwealth that it has been elected to legislate. It should not allow itself to be influenced or distracted by anti-Trump activists. This bill is a slap in the face to the law abiding people working to gain legal citizenship in this country, and to the federal and local law enforcement trying to keep our communities at their safest. ICE agents are tasked with the difficult mission to remove dangerous criminal felons from our streets across the country. Releasing known criminals that ICE has issued immigration detainer requests for does not make our communities safer. It creates the exact opposite. These agents will then be exposed to the greater risks of making a repeat arrest out in the communities themselves rather than taking custody of a criminal that has already been apprehended. Attempting arrests of criminals within the communities is always a very high risk situation. It is the most dangerous thing a law enforcement officer must do. Not only is the law enforcement officer(s) in danger, but also are the innocent people in the vicinity while the arrest attempt is being made. Anything can happen or go fatally wrong. No federal immigration agency asks local law enforcement to perform in their role or engage on their behalf. These are the facts. Close cooperation between local and federal law enforcement in transferring custody of dangerous felons is imperative and should never be interfered with.

  5. It is very critical to distinguish the roles of law enforcement in the street context and the post-arrest context. As an immigrant myself, I do not wish any police check my paper, though I have all of them. The U.S. police are not very nice, they use fear to make people “tell the truth”. I do not want them to “test” people by threatening their immigration status, such as “if you do not tell me xx, I will hand you to ICE”. If they are not allowed to know a person’s immigration status, this particular interrogation tactic cannot work. For the post-arrest context, a real dangerous criminal should be and must be deported if the law required so, this same law applies to legal alien residents and undocumented residents. Also, I would urge all politicians and advocates, especially the ones from the left to make the distinction between documented immigrants and undocumented immigrants. Nowadays, too many people refer to undocumented immigrants as “immigrants”, which is not correct in the sense of immigration law, because “immigrants” only refer to green card holders, which do not include even international students or foreign workers. Making this distinction allows us knowing what population we are talking about since people with different status face different challenges. Besides, I read a few other people’s comments, some mentioned special interests group’s role here. I share their concerns as well, though I do not know exactly where their interests lay. I saw quite a few organizations support both Asian data disaggregation bill (which call for every government agency, including law enforcement agencies, to ask Asian people their national origin), and support safe community act (which is banning law enforcement branch of the government from asking national origin). This level of self-contradiction is very upsetting, and it makes me do not trust these advocates anymore.

Comments are closed.