Massachusetts Committee Holds Hearing on Sanctuary Bills
FAIR Take | December 2021
The Massachusetts state legislature’s Joint Committee on Public Safety and Homeland Security held a hearing on December 1, on three bills that would dramatically expand the state’s sanctuary policies. Massachusetts has been a sanctuary state since the State Supreme Court ruled in the case of Lunn v. Commonwealth in 2017. Lunn banned state and local law enforcement agencies from honoring federal immigration detainers issued by Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE). Despite the Lunn ruling, the legislature is considering sanctuary bills that will go much further in dangerously restricting the ability of Massachusetts law enforcement to assist and cooperate with federal immigration authorities.
Senate Bill (S.) 1579, sponsored by Senator Jamie Eldridge (D-Acton), and House Bill (H.) 2418 by Representative Ruth Balser (D-Newton), are companion bills that:
- Ban state and local enforcement from asking about anyone’s immigration status;
- Allow interviews by federal immigration officials of suspected illegal aliens in state or local custody only with “informed consent”;
- Prohibit “initiating communication” by state or local law enforcement with federal immigration authorities about the release of anyone in their custody except at the end of a sentence already imposed for a criminal conviction;
- Ban state and local law enforcement from “performing the functions of an immigration officer,” including specifically banning cooperative agreements with ICE under Section 287(g) of the federal Immigration and Nationality Act; and
- Require any current 287(g) agreements to be terminated within 90 days of the bill taking effect.
S. 1573 by Sen. Diana DiZoglio (D-Methuen) is even broader. In addition to the provisions in S. 1579 and H. 2418, it would:
- Ban any use of state or local resources “for purposes related solely to immigration enforcement,” a blanket sanctuary policy that would make Massachusetts comparable to the most extreme sanctuary states such as Oregon, Washington and Illinois;
- Ban any arrest or detention for immigration purposes, including banning honoring immigration detainers, presumably to preempt any future court decision overruling the Lunn case; and
- Provide a very narrow exception to the ban on detainer compliance with judicial approval where a jail may honor a detainer and hold a suspected illegal alien for up to six hours if the individual was arrested for terrorist activity or had been previously convicted for a small number of serious crimes.
While these bills were introduced in March they had not advanced in the legislative process until now.
Bristol County Sheriff Thomas Hodgson (R), whose 287(g) agreement was canceled by the Biden Administration in May, has been an outspoken opponent of the sanctuary bills for years. At a previous hearing in 2020, Sheriff Hodgson stressed that “[w]hen you begin to break apart our ability to communicate with our partners, we suddenly are not able to get the information that we otherwise have to keep somebody from being released out of jail. Likewise it may keep law enforcement from arresting somebody in the community who will then go out and victimize more people.”
This year’s latest new twist had open-borders advocates also saying that the COVID-19 pandemic somehow justified or required sanctuary policies.
As is typical in Massachusetts, the committee did not vote on the bills at the end of hearing, and no committee votes on them have been scheduled.
The bills are similar to sanctuary bills heard in committee in previous years that were “sent to study,” a face-saving measure common in New England for putting bills aside without having to actually vote them down.
In 2018, the more liberal Senate amended sanctuary language into the state budget, but this was stripped out by the more conservative House of Representatives. Since then, open-borders advocates in Massachusetts have continued to press lawmakers to pass sanctuary legislation.
No sanctuary bill ever received a floor vote by the House under prior Speaker Robert DeLeo (D-Winthrop), who actively opposed such legislation. His successor Speaker Ron Mariano (D-Quincy) is supposed to hold similar views and may be inclined to protect his most vulnerable moderate members by ensuring they do not vote on controversial bills. But unlike his predecessor, Speaker Mariano has not spoken out against the bills.
While Governor Charlie Baker (R) has not made any public statements on these bills, he has previously stated he would veto sanctuary bills if he ever received them.
FAIR staff submitted written testimony opposing the bills.