A flood of opposition to deputizing law enforcement as ICE agents

The message from advocacy groups, legal experts, faith-based organizations and citizens was clear: let the federal government handle immigration matters.

Cabral witnesses crowd May2017Rep. Antonio Cabral (far left, next to Rep. Denise Provost) prepares to testify, backed by a roomful of supporters.

BOSTON, May 11, 2017 – State Rep. Antonio Cabral said he doesn’t want to debate immigration policy. “That is the responsibility of the federal government,” he told the Joint Committee on Public Safety on Monday.

Instead, the New Bedford Democrat urged the committee to support his two bills, H.3033 (An Act Relative to Enforcing Federal Law), and H.3034 (An Act Limiting the Use of Prison Labor), on fiscal grounds. “State dollars ought to be used for state programs, period,” he said.

The first bill would bar the use of state funds to implement “287(g)” collaboration agreements between Massachusetts sheriffs and correctional facilities and U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE).

Under those agreements, which have been signed by the Bristol County and Plymouth County Sheriffs and the state Department of Corrections, officers of those agencies are deputized to question people about their immigration status, arrest them for immigration violations, and start deportation proceedings.

Federal resources may not be used to implement 287(g) agreements, so Cabral’s bill would effectively end the three in Massachusetts. It would also require detailed reporting on the finances of such deals.

The second bill would forbid the shipping of inmates for work details outside Massachusetts – as Bristol County Sheriff Thomas Hodgson has said he wants to do to help build a wall on the Mexican border. “I do not think that is appropriate,” Cabral said.

Although Cabral’s bills have a much narrower scope than the Safe Communities Act, Monday’s hearing was the first opportunity for people to testify at the State House about how they want Massachusetts to respond to the federal immigration crackdown. The turnout was overwhelming.

The hearing had been scheduled in a sprawling double room, and although there were witnesses for other bills as well, when Committee Co-Chair William N. Brownsberger asked how many people were there to support Cabral’s bills, almost the whole room stood up. Only a handful of people had come to oppose the bills.

Amy testifies Cabral May2017Amy Grunder, of MIRA, testifies before the Joint Committee on the Judiciary, flanked by Laura Rótolo, of the ACLU of Massachusetts (right), and a domestic violence survivor.

Amy Grunder, MIRA’s director of legislative affairs, and partners in the Safe Communities Coalition organized testimony into panels covering legal experts, community agencies, domestic violence agencies, faith-based organizations, health care providers, and civil rights advocates. In addition, state Rep. Michelle M. DuBois (D-Brockton), Rep. Denise Provost (D-Somerville), and Rep. Mike Connolly (D-Cambridge) testified in support of the two bills, and Senate President Stan Rosenberg sent a letter supporting H.3033, on budget grounds.

A recurring theme was that when immigrants see law enforcement officers actively collaborating with ICE, they stop trusting anyone with a badge, with potentially deadly consequences. There is mounting evidence of that already, with several cities noting drops in crime reports by Latinos, especially domestic and sexual violence.

“I would hate to see the day when one of my constituents in Brockton is being raped or murdered and they’re afraid to call 911,” DuBois said. Minutes later, a client of REACH Beyond Domestic Violence, a Guatemalan woman, told the committee that she had endured rape and beatings for several years because her husband threatened to have her deported if she called the police.

Karen Bauerle, of the American Friends Service Committee, said H.3033 would help prevent “a further erosion of trust” of law enforcement in our communities. “Trust is an officer’s and a police department’s most valuable asset,” she added.

Dr. Lara Jirmanus, a family physician at Cambridge Health Alliance, stressed that it’s not only public safety that is at stake, but also public health. She cited a particularly tragic case, in which the parents of a 14-month-old baby who couldn’t breathe were too scared to call 911 for help.

“That kind of fear is deadly,” Jirmanus said. “We should all be able to call for help. Fear of local police collaboration with ICE should not prevent somebody from calling 911.”

Judith Goldberger, a nurse at Boston Medical Center, said many immigrants are afraid to seek routine care as well – including pregnant women who are missing appointments and risking severe complications, with lifelong consequences. “Please don’t use state resources to add to the stress and the suffering and the health consequences for our families,” she said.

Several people wove fiscal and moral arguments together. Connolly, for instance, said he thinks “it is abhorrent that we would use state resources to cooperate and collaborate with the xenophobic agenda of Donald Trump.” Louise Parker, a community organizer in Cambridge, told the committee: “We will not participate in the wholesale rounding up and deporting of people.”

Ben Echevarria, executive director of The Welcome Project in Somerville, warned of another major risk if 287(g) agreements remain in effect in Massachusetts: racial profiling. Echevarria, a brown-skinned U.S. citizen of Puerto Rican descent, said he could predict just who would be targeted by newly deputized officers: “Considering Latinos are the largest group of undocumented people – my skin color, my looks, that’s what’s going to happen,” he said.

Bishop Teixeira testifies May2017The Most Rev. Bishop Filipe Teixeira, OFSJC, of the Immigration Pastoral Center, a MIRA board member and a onetime refugee, testifies before the committee. “Twenty years from now, we’re going to say, what have we done – was it right or wrong?” he said.