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Activists press Gov. Baker on cooperation with U.S. Immigration

Yawu Miller
Yawu Miller
Yawu Miller is the Banner’s senior editor. VIEW BIO
Activists press Gov. Baker on cooperation with U.S. Immigration
Centro Presente Executive Director Patricia Montes leads a demonstration outside the office of Gov. Charlie Baker.

Immigrant activists clashed with prominent Republicans last week after state lawmakers and Gov. Charlie Baker announced a proposal that would allow local law enforcement to detain immigrants on behalf of federal immigration authorities.

The GOP push comes after last week’s Supreme Judicial Court ruling that state and local police have no jurisdiction to hold anyone based solely on their immigration status, even if asked to do so by federal immigration authorities.

On Friday, Centro Presente Executive Director Patricia Montes and a dozen activists marched into Baker’s office and demanded a personal meeting. When Baker’s office refused and sent out the governor’s director of constituent services instead, Centro Presente staff member Jennifer Hernandez read a statement.

“Was it only two weeks ago that Governor Baker announced the formation of a Latino Advisory Committee?” Hernandez read from the statement. “And now he is coming out in favor of undermining community policing efforts, opening the door for potential racial profiling and providing support for the Trump Administration’s hateful campaign of scapegoating, fear and bigotry.”

Whether or not it can pass in the state’s Democrat-majority Legislature, whatever ideas Baker or the GOP lawmakers advance comes at a time of heightened divisiveness in the national discourse on immigration. Under the administration of President Donald J. Trump, U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) has prioritized deportations of undocumented immigrants, a departure from a longstanding policy of targeting only those who have committed serious crimes. In recent months, ICE has targeted undocumented immigrants who are on their way to securing status, including those under the Obama-era Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program.

The SJC ruling bars police from holding in custody people who have been arrested and ordered released on behalf of ICE. It also bars police from holding people solely on the basis of civil immigration infractions.

In a statement to the Boston Herald, a Baker spokeswoman said the administration is seeking to restore options available to the state police to detain violent criminals who have immigration violations in those instances when ICE is delayed in doing so.

“Governor Baker does not support a sanctuary state and believes the administration’s policy is an important public safety tool to keep our communities safe,” spokeswoman Lizzy Guyton told the Herald.

Lawrence Rep. Juana Mathias and Acton Sen. Jamie Eldridge sponsored the Safe Communities Act, which would bar state tax revenue from being used to aid in ICE deportation of immigrants or the creation of a Muslim registry.

“Our state’s highest court has done its part to protect the civil rights of our immigrant communities,” Matias said in a statement sent to the Banner. “It has upheld our Massachusetts values. We now, as a legislature, must do the same.”

Montes and other immigration activists say both the Baker administration’s policy of holding undocumented immigrants on behalf of ICE and the Trump administration’s aggressive deportation regime are misguided, noting that there’s no data that show immigrants are as likely to engage in criminal activity as native-born U.S. citizens.

“The data show that immigrants are less likely to commit crimes,” she said.

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