The bill aims to reduce the fear experienced by immigrants on a regular basis.
Legislators announced the refilling of the “Safe Communities Act,” a bill designed to support immigrant communities, on February 2. Sponsored by senator Jamie Eldridge and representatives Ruth Balser and Liz Miranda, it is intended to protect the civil rights and safety of all Massachusetts residents, while addressing COVID-19. The officials were among those present at a press conference organized by the Massachusetts Safe Communities Coalition.
“As encouraged as I am by the Biden-Harris administration’s approach in immigration – I greatly appreciate the executive orders and president Biden already proposing national immigration reform – we don’t know what’s going to happen yet,” said Eldridge. “We’ve already seen one federal court hold up a president Biden executive order around stopping DHS enforcement priorities. …Harmful immigration practices have existed in Massachusetts throughout both democratic and republican administrations. We can’t wait for the federal government or Congress to act. We need to act.”
The bill bars law enforcement and court personnel from asking people about their immigration status, unless required by law. It also protects due process, meaning that before questioning a person, Immigrations and Customs Enforcement (ICE) officials must have the individual sign a consent form that explains their right to decline an interview or to have an attorney present. The Safe Communities Act limits notifications to ICE, for example, by barring police, court officials, and jail officials from notifying them when someone is released. It ends 287(g) agreements, or contracts that allow state and county personnel to act as federal immigration agents, and provides training and accountability.
Balser emphasized that she believes the passage of the bill would help make Massachusetts a place where immigrants can feel secure.
“I see what we’re doing today as consistent with the message we’re getting out of the White House,” said Balser. “I think that president Biden and vice president Harris are saying that we want the United States to be a safe and welcoming home for immigrants and refugees.” She added, “There’s a lot of fear in the immigrant community. We are here to say that there is legislation that can be passed that could calm that fear.”
Shira Laucharoen is a reporter based in Boston. She currently serves as the assistant director of the Boston Institute for Nonprofit Journalism. In the past she has written for Sampan newspaper, The Somerville Times, Scout Magazine, Boston Magazine, and WBUR.