Just as we were finishing this issue of DigBoston, news broke that the administration of President Donald Trump was tripling down on its pledge to hurt cities that shield people from federal immigration enforcement forces in any way. Since Greater Boston is ground zero for such so-called sanctuary, outrage erupted right away. This following comment coming from Mass Democratic Party Chair Gus Bickford:
Once again, the Trump Administration is showing its true colors by threatening to illegally strip cities of vital federal funding because they refuse to use local law enforcement to round up immigrants on a whim … President Trump continues to ignore the fact that the United States is a nation of immigrants. Instead, he has installed white supremacists like Steve Bannon in the White House and established an agenda that pits Americans against each other, exploits immigrants, and undermines our American ideals of inclusion and diversity.
With more confusion than I’ve ever before sensed around this issue, and as the whims and policy proposals of those doing Donald’s dirty work shift like the climate in New England of late, I transcribed a recent interview I did with Amy Grunder, an attorney with the Massachusetts Immigrant and Refugee Advocacy Coalition. Taped this month for the regional news digest “Beyond Boston,” which I co-produce with the Boston Institute for Nonprofit Journalism and accomplices from several community TV stations, our guest’s informative responses offer a critical baseline and guide for the immigration discussion afoot.
What were the priorities for MIRA leading up to this [urgent response to Trump administration rhetoric and policy]?
AG: We have always supported comprehensive immigration reform. That’s been deadlocked in Congress for a really long time. The Obama administration had a really mixed record on immigration. On the one hand, they had progressive policies like: those for Dreamers [young students and workers who were temporarily protected]; deferred action for childhood arrivals that allowed people who were brought here as children to have temporary legal status; and the Secure Communities program, which invited local police to hold people for immigration violations, and that we had major problems with.
That’s on the federal level. I am the director of legislative affairs and focus mainly on state-level work and state policy. We are a coalition, and we have 130 organizational members that we need to keep informed about state and federal policies coming down the pike, and also ways to advocate to change or improve them or advocate for new policies. On the state level, we have always sort of advocated for legislation that positively impacts immigrants on the one hand, and then on the other hand defend Massachusetts immigrants from budget riders and amendments that attempt to cut them out of programs they’re entitled to.
Those [cuts] probably aren’t always so public.
No. I don’t think people pay that much attention to what’s happening in the state legislature, because I think they assume that Massachusetts is a Democratic majority state and we have a progressive congressional delegation. We have really great members of the state legislature, but it’s a fight every year. It’s a defensive game.
What does the word “sanctuary” really mean? What are the most important things that people need to know?
Sanctuary city isn’t a legal term, it’s a political term. So when it’s used by faith-based communities, for example, they’re talking about policies that may include anything from offering support, to [helping] people threatened with deportation, to putting funds together to help people with deportation proceedings, to giving a place to live to people who are targeted by [Immigration and Customs Enforcement]. The term comes from a faith-based movement in the 1980s. It always depends on who’s using the phrase.
When the Trump administration talks about sanctuary cities, or opponents talk about sanctuary cities, what they’re talking about is jurisdictions that in one way or another limit police participation in immigration enforcement. Somerville, for example, and there are lots of different ways that cities and towns can do that, so it doesn’t mean anything specific. We prefer to call these “trust jurisdictions” because of the range of policies that officials have put into place.
How do those policies jibe with the work that MIRA does?
The idea is that you don’t want local police to be involved in immigration enforcement. When local police are involved in immigration enforcement, it means that people in immigrant communities are unwilling to come forward to report crimes. There’s research out there saying that communities that have these policies in place are actually safer than those that don’t. Just think about it for a second—if you’re an immigrant, you’re twice as likely to die from domestic homicide than if you’re a native-born resident of Massachusetts. And that’s because if people are afraid to go to the police, their victimizers know it too.
As you noted, MIRA informs a number of groups and individuals. What are the best ways for people to keep up with all the changing news and laws on the immigration front?
We have been approached by at least a dozen state and local groups that have been trying to pass similar policies in their communities. Basically what this does is that police aren’t participating in civil immigration enforcement, so if police have a reason to hold someone to prosecute or investigate a crime that’s one thing, but otherwise it puts citizens and noncitizens on a level playing field.
People can support those kinds of policies in their own communities, and there is statewide legislation in front of the state legislature right now called the Safe Communities Act. That was introduced by Sen. Jamie Eldridge in the Senate and Rep. Juana Matias in the House, and that bill would protect the civil rights and safety of all Massachusetts residents by making sure that state and local resources aren’t used to separate families, to create a Muslim registry, and to create due process protections for people who are in immigration detention as well.
A Queens, NY native who came to New England in 2004 to earn his MA in journalism at Boston University, Chris Faraone is the editor and co-publisher of DigBoston and a co-founder of the Boston Institute for Nonprofit Journalism. He has published several books including 99 Nights with the 99 Percent, and has written liner notes for hip-hop gods including Cypress Hill, Pete Rock, Nas, and various members of the Wu-Tang Clan.