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Mass. Senate passes immigrant protections

Amendment to the state budget is seen as a Safe Communities Act compromise

Karen Morales

The Massachusetts Senate voted 25–13 last Wednesday to approve an amendment to the fiscal year 2019 state budget, with four key provisions to protect immigrants.

The amendment, proposed by Sen. Jamie Eldridge, bars police from asking about people’s immigration status unless required by law; ends contracts that deputize state and local law enforcement as ICE agents; requires that immigrants be notified of their due process rights regardless of documentation; and ensures that Massachusetts does not contribute to any registry based on religion, ethnicity, citizenship or other protected categories.

The amendment is very similar to the policies proposed in the Safe Communities Act, although House Speaker Robert DeLeo stated last month that that legislation would not be brought up for a vote. 

“We live in a very dangerous time in our country’s history, we have the Trump Administration sowing fear, divisiveness and hateful rhetoric,” said Eldridge in an official statement. “Last night was an opportunity for the Massachusetts State Senate to stand up for Massachusetts values.”

He added, “There’s a role for state government, to make sure that no state resources, no state functions, no state power, engage in Donald Trump’s nasty deportation agenda.”

Immigrant rights advocates have been pushing for the Legislature to adopt the Safe Communities Act for over a year, and their calls became more urgent when President Trump enacted a travel ban on people from Muslim nations early last year, repeatedly pushed for a wall along the U.S.-Mexico border and terminated Temporary Protected Status for immigrants from several countries.

“The four provisions included in Senator Jamie Eldridge’s amendment will make our communities safer by ensuring that all residents know they can speak to police without fear,” said Massachusetts Immigrant and Refugee Advocacy Coalition Executive Director Eva Millona. “At a time when our federal government is tearing families apart, tonight’s votes send a powerful message that in our Commonwealth, we value and welcome immigrants.”

The conference committee will take up the amendment next as it works to reconcile the House and Senate versions of the budget.

Separation of families

Earlier this month, Attorney General Jeff Sessions announced that anyone who crosses the border illegally will be subject to criminal prosecution, and because children cannot be held in adult jails, families are being forcibly separated at the border.

This is a drastic departure from previous administration policies, which usually allowed immigrant parents to stay with their children while detained at the border.

Last week, records obtained by the American Civil Liberties Union’s Border Litigation Project, under the Freedom of Information Act, show documented abuse and neglect of unaccompanied immigrant children by U.S. Customs and Border Protection from 2009 to 2014. The ACLU report, disputed by CBP as “unfounded,” shows civil rights violations in U.S. immigration policy, long before President Trump.

Guatemalan migrant killed

Last Wednesday, a 20-year-old Guatemalan woman, Claudia Patricia Gomez, had made the journey to the U.S. border in Texas when she was shot and killed by a Border Patrol agent.

Customs and Border Protection released conflicting statements on the events, first stating a group of migrants, including Gomez, had attacked the agent with “blunt objects.” A revised account makes no mention of objects and indicates the group “rushed” the officer.

Guatemala’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs said in a statement, “Guatemala condemns violent acts and any other use of excessive force by the Border Patrol. We urge authorities to respect the rights of our citizens, especially their right to live, regardless of their immigration status.”

The FBI and the Texas Rangers are investigating the shooting, and the Border Patrol agent in question was put on administrative leave.

The outcome of Eldridge’s amendment for the final version of the state budget is uncertain. Governor Charlie Baker has told press he would veto the amendment and oppose any other legislation that would make Massachusetts a sanctuary state.