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Legislators re-file Safe Communities Act

Morgan C. Mullings
Staff reporter covering state and local politics. Report for America Corps Member. VIEW BIO
Legislators re-file Safe Communities Act

Advocates gathered via Zoom Feb. 3 to promote the refiling of the Safe Communities Act. It did not pass last session but was reported favorably from the Joint Committee on Public Safety and Homeland Security and was immediately refiled for the 2021-2022 state legislative session.

Sponsored by Rep. Liz Miranda, Sen. Jamie Eldridge and Rep. Ruth Balser, the Safe Communities Act limits state law enforcement’s involvement in federal immigration enforcement. Advocates consider this a part of public health policy as well as immigration policy, since so many of Massachusetts’ immigrants are essential workers during the pandemic.

“COVID-19 has underscored the impact of longstanding state and local involvement in deportations — undermining testing, treatment, contact tracing and vaccination efforts in immigrant communities, and impeding access to court and police protection,” said Massachusetts Immigrant and Refugee Advocacy Coalition President and CEO Eva Millona. MIRA coordinates state-level advocacy for over 130 local organizations.

Millona gave the example of a COVID-19 patient who was afraid to seek treatment and waited so long that they needed to be intubated.

“Community health centers report that they have seen an increasing number of immigrant patients disenrolling from health benefits and delaying or avoiding care, even before the pandemic,” she said.

These fears existed before the COVID-19 emergency and now continue because of increasing cases and community spread. Advocates want to prevent local police from reporting undocumented immigrants to Immigration and Customs Enforcement, particularly when they’re reporting crimes or victims of crimes. Creating a uniform standard on what information is shareable or what isn’t could give immigrants the confidence to report things like domestic violence or theft without the risk of getting in trouble with ICE.

After four years of fighting for this bill, MIRA and other organizations finally saw success when it made it out of committee for the first time last year.

“Here in Massachusetts, we are proud of our reputation as a welcoming, inclusive commonwealth, but our laws don’t accurately reflect this commitment,” Millona said. “It’s time we change the perspective of immigrants as a problem to be solved, and instead recognize the essential role immigrants play as part of the fabric of our commonwealth and our nation.”

Organizations recognize that this bill would directly affect Boston’s essential workers. Labor Union 32BJ SEIU, a group of cleaners and security workers that includes many immigrants, supports the act as well.

“During this unprecedented time — when immigrant workers like those I am proud to represent are disproportionately impacted by the COVID-19 pandemic and resulting economic crisis — it’s important that everyone feel safe accessing the health care and other resources they need, without fear of retaliation based on their immigration status,” said Roxana Rivera, vice president of 32BJ.

Miranda represents a district where 50% of the residents are foreign-born. At one point in her life, she said, her brother and father were both deported.

“No one should fear seeking the care that they need to keep themselves and their families safe,” Miranda said during the virtual event. “It is time for this legislature to take a stand for immigrants who have been attacked relentlessly for years.”

Because the bill addresses a public health issue, the Massachusetts League of Community Health Centers has also stepped up in support of the Safe Communities Act. League CEO Michael Curry explained that immigrant fears can limit COVID-19 testing and contact tracing that could save their lives.

“The Safe Communities Act will restore trust in our public institutions, and more urgently, as we rollout the COVID-19 vaccine, ensure that our immigrant communities have access to this life-saving measure,” Curry said.

The act will need to make it out of the Joint Committee on Public Safety and Homeland Security again, and this time go a step further to the Committee on Ways and Means. Over 200 organizations across the state have voiced support for the Safe Communities Act so far.