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Pass the Mass. Trust Act for Immigration Reform

Sept. 22, 2015

Help Make Sure that the Mass Trust Act Passes This Year

This fall, as the endless election season roars on, Donald Trump’s outrageous anti-immigrant rants are daily  fare and all the Republican contenders are competing to outdo him.  Political attacks on “sanctuary cities” are escalating in Washington after the murder of a young woman in San Francisco by an undocumented man who had reentered the U.S. after multiple deportations.  The waves of anti-immigrant hysteria and racism which have stopped national  immigration reform in its tracks continue to mount. 

We know that scapegoating of vulnerable groups is a powerful tool of demagogues.  Attitudes toward immigrants have always been volatile, easily influenced by the media framing of unique events.  Still, the current assault on immigrant rights, particularly here in Massachusetts, feels unprecedented.   In an effort to restore  immigrant communities’ trust in the police,  a coalition of grassroots  activists have been working for many years to end the  so-called Secure Communities program and to pass a MA Trust Act.    The MA Trust Act aims to stop cooperation between local law enforcement and the federal Immigration and Customs Enforcement office (ICE) .

 Secure Communities is the misnomer given   by ICE to a directive  which asked local law enforcement officials to hold undocumented immigrants until ICE can pick them up, place them in detention centers and on the road to deportation.  During the Obama administration, an unprecedented number, more than two million undocumented immigrants have been deported.  In 2013 alone, 438,421 were deported.   While ICE claims S-Comm (the activists’ shorthand) is aimed at criminals, more than half of those detained had no previous criminal record.

S-Comm created intense fear in immigrant communities, fear that children would return from school to discover their parents had been detained, fear that contacting local police to report criminal behavior or domestic assaults,  would lead to one’s own detention and deportation.  Community trust in local law-enforcement deteriorated and the security of life in neighborhoods with large concentrations of immigrants declined.  Indeed, S-Comm  produced its opposite -- insecure communities.

 Despite Obama's Executive Actions last year to end Secure Communities, increase prosecutorial discretion in ruling on individual cases, and provide temporary protected status to many undocumented immigrants, the deportation machinery remains in place and is almost as active as ever.   PEP, the Priority Enforcement Program(PEP)   has replaced S-Comm.  It  emphasizes that the focus is on detaining  criminals but it appears to be continuing the very same practices under another name.   In April alone, ICE issued 55 detainers to law enforcement agencies in Massachusetts – 40% of those against people with no prior criminal convictions.

This fall is a critical time in the fight to pass the MA Trust Act.   Please contact your state representatives and senators and ask them to support the bill.  The legislation is currently in the Public Safety and Judiciary Committees; there was a rapidly scheduled, barely announced hearing in Judiciary in mid September and there will be a Public Safety hearing , probably in November.  We need to fill the  next hearing with supporters and will post the hearing date on the UJP website as soon as it is announced. 

The MA Trust Act is one of three pieces of current legislation aimed at easing the plight of undocumented immigrants.   The other two are the Safe Drivers Act which allows undocumented persons to obtain drivers licenses and the Dreamers Act which makes students eligible for instate tuition if they are high school graduates and have lived in the US for x years.  

 In August, Gov. Baker said he would veto these pro-immigrant bills if they reached his desk.  Before meeting with advocates to hear their arguments, before evaluating evidence presented in the hearings on these bills, he announces his intent to veto the legislation.  This is unacceptable.   We cannot allow the ugly anti-immigrant statements and actions to continue that are tarnishing our history as a welcoming state.  It is time to fight back.

Vicky Steinitz

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