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Getting Police Out of Immigration Enforcement

A new bill in Boston would limit local officers’ cooperation with the federal Secure Communities program.

Comments (6)
Tuesday, July 16, 2013

Should local police have to enforce immigration rules against undocumented people not implicated in criminal acts?

A drive is on in Massachusetts to free state and local law enforcement from having to cooperate with certain aspects of the federal Secure Communities program, which targets people for deportation.

According to an American Friends Service Committee tally of Department of Homeland Security data, 200 people have been deported since the federal government started up the program in Massachusetts last year, and 62 percent of them had no criminal histories.

A bill, Senate 1135/House 1613, filed at the request of Unitarian Universalist Mass Action and a coalition of community groups, would limit the responsibilities of police in the Bay State to targeting people who are 18 or over, have been sentenced to five years or more in prison, and have not been released by a state court.

The bill—called, like similar bills elsewhere, the Trust Act—also requires that when people are detained by police, they be given lawyers before being turned over to federal Immigration and Customs Enforcement Agency (ICE) officials. And the costs of detention would have to be paid by the federal government.

Among the supporters of the bill from the Western Massachusetts legislative delegation are Sen. Denise Andrews and Reps. Ellen Story, John Scibak, Cheryl Coakley-Rivera, Aaron Vega and Ben Swan.

 

The bill was modeled at least in part on a policy developed by the Amherst police department in 2011, according to Just Communities of Western Massachusetts, a project of Springfield-based Western Massachusetts Jobs With Justice. The Amherst PD directive emphasizes that “it is not within the mission of this department to enforce immigration laws.”

Hence, says the directive, signed by Chief Scott Livingstone in August, 2011, “If ICE or another federal agency come into our community to effect an arrest warrant on an individual, and request our assistance... this assistance... would be limited to locating an address, keeping the peace and [controlling] traffic if necessary.”

The directive also states: “Skin color, language, accent, or other individual traits shall not be considered an element in building reasonable suspicion or probable cause, unless these descriptions are pertinent in developing a suspect, such as when we rely on witness or victim recollection of a suspect....A person’s right to file a report, participate in police-community activities, or otherwise benefit from police services shall not be continent upon citizenship or immigration status.”

The 2011 version of the directive came about “because of a lengthy dialogue with the immigrant community and those that work on their behalf and their concerns about how we would address issues with ICE,” Capt. Jennifer Gundersen, head of the Amherst PD’s community policing program, told the Advocate. “Even before August of ‘11, we still had a strong policy that limited work that we did with the ICE. If there was a sweep, our involvement would be assisting in traffic control or keeping the peace, but we don’t conduct sweeps.”

The Northampton City Council also passed a resolution in 2011 stating that the city, “to the extent permissible by law, shall not participate in federal law enforcement programs relating to immigration inforcement, including but not limited to, Secure Communities...”

The resolution adds, “Municipal employees of Northampton, including law enforcement employees, shall not monitor, stop, detain, question, interrogate, or search a person for the purpose of determining that individual’s immigration status.”

 

In Amherst, the policy was developed partly to aid the community policing effort by encouraging immigrants to trust local law enforcement. Undocumented status makes people ripe to become victims of many classes of crime; the Amherst directive, for example, mentions that undocumented people often have money on them or in their homes because it’s difficult for them to deposit it in banks. This makes them ripe for robberies they may be reluctant to report for fear of deportation, just as they are often reluctant to report wage theft, substandard working conditions—or sexual abuse.

Just Communities offered this quote from Alicia Morales, who emigrated to Springfield from Guatemala: “For months I was abused at work by my boss. He would grab me, and it would leave bruises all over my body. He would tell me, ‘Go ahead, call the police. You don’t matter. They won’t help you.’”

In other parts of the country, communities and states have resisted aspects of the Secure Communities program. In Santa Clara County, Calif., county commissioners voted not to cooperate with the part of the program that asks local law enforcement to hold people in custody for an extra 48 hours after they would normally be released so the ICE can investigate their immigration status. Contra Costa County, Calif., which has had an exceptionally high rate of non-criminal deportations, now has a policy limiting local law enforcement’s cooperation with the program.

The Secure Communities program was started up in 14 jurisdictions by the George W. Bush administration in 2008 and then expanded gradually. Gov. Deval Patrick and other Massachusetts officials objected to its introduction in Massachusetts in 2012, as did the governor of New York when the program was started up there last year, but Washington gave the states no choice.

ICE defends the program, which, it says, since 2008 has removed more than 135,000 convicted criminals from the U.S., including 49,000 violent felons. Opponents say the program also targets people guilty of nothing but overstaying their visas or missing court dates with the ICE.

The Connecticut state legislature passed a form of the Trust Act in June, as did the District of Columbia last year. Also last year, the California state legislature passed a form of the Trust Act, informally known as the “anti-Arizona law,” but the law went back to the drawing boards after the governor demanded changes. New York City has also restricted its cooperation with immigration officials attempting to detain people who are not charged with serious offenses.•

 

Comments (6)
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This is an easy one. Only had to read your first sentence - the word "illegal" is right in the term "illegal immigrant." It catches the illegal term because it's an act in defiance of the law, some would call it a crime. So to say we need to remove police from the activity of addressing those who commit a crime sounds pretty silly you can now see.

Nailed it. You're welcome.

Posted by Ben on 7.18.13 at 6:39

Is illegal in the first sentence? Because I hear undocumented. That means Aspiring American. That means, yes, this person may have committed an administrative civil violation. But in no way is that make someone illegal. What a dehumanizing term. Crossing without inspection is akin to building a fence in your backyard, but placing it closer to your neighbor's property line than permitted by city or town bilaws. It is a civil infraction that must be resolved, just as aspiring americans are fighting to resolve their immigration status.

Additionally, the work of local law enforcement is to make our communities safer. And to pre-empt an additional question many may have; Yes, there are undocumented immigrants throughout Western Massachusetts. In Amherst, Northampton, Easthampton, Deerfield, Holyoke, Springfield, Turners Fall,s Greenfield, and so on. Making these communities targets of law enforcement for a federal violation means that they are virtually never going to report crime, whether they are witnesses or victims. How does that make our communities safe? And, who knows that better than local law enforcement who have already passed resolutions and policies in opposition to targeting aspiring americans?

Posted by Bliss on 7.18.13 at 8:20

Your argument is 100% emotion and that's a problem. So let me first repeat the facts.... entering a space illegally and remaining there illegally is illegal. The first sentence says that illegal immigrants haven't necessarily commited a criminal act. That is not factual - it's a lie. They violated a law. "Administrative civil violation" is a collection of words that are made up and mean nothing.

We are a nation of laws - if you don't like one, work to change it. To instead insist that the police should have no part in identifying people who break the law is completely illogical.

People who enter and live in the US illegally are committing a crime. Many commit identity theft to work with someone else's SSN. They don't pay proper taxes.

I'm open to fixing all of that by securing the border and improving our legal immigration system. But to play this game of being offended is counterproductive and intellectually dishonest. Shame on you.

Posted by Ben on 7.18.13 at 10:47

Well then, Ben. You are illegal according the Metacomet - Monadnock treaty between allegheny and other local native american tribes of approximately 1576. Clearly this law was in effect before you entered into the country illegally.

Why are you still here? Now that are educated on the law, Can I assume you are going to leave their country now? Or are you simply going to ignore the law?

Posted by tiedyeguy on 7.23.13 at 10:57

Solid argument, Tiedyeguy. (By the way, Adam & Even said they wanted you out. Sorry.)

Posted by Ben on 7.23.13 at 12:25

The Secure Communities, local law enforcement agencies automatically provide immigration authorities fingerprint information for every person arrested. After comparing the fingerprint information with its own databases, ICE can either try to deport the person or store the information in a massive database for future use. Secure Communities is already used in 1882 jurisdictions and 44 states.

Posted by Private Security on 8.13.13 at 7:50
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