Massachusetts Committee Considers Sanctuary Bills
By Tanner Bonovitch | FAIR Take | February 2020
On January 24, the Massachusetts state legislature’s Joint Committee on Public Safety & Homeland Security held a hearing on several bills that would impose sanctuary policies throughout the Commonwealth. Most law enforcement in Massachusetts are already forbidden from honoring immigration detainers since the Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court (SJC)’s Lunn decision in 2017, but these bills would dramatically expand those restrictions by cutting off vital cooperation and information-sharing with federal authorities.
The so-called “Safe Communities Act” was re-introduced in 2019 and carried over to the 2020 session. The Senate bill (SB) 1401 was sponsored by Senator James Eldridge (D-Acton) and the House version, House Bill (HB) 3573, was sponsored by Representative Ruth Balser (D-Newton). They bar police from acting as immigration law enforcers – even if they’ve had the proper training from Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) through the 287(g) program – and bar police and court officials from inquiring about immigration status unless it’s required.
More specifically, the bills, which are identical, would:
- Ban state and local law enforcement from asking about anyone’s immigration status;
- Require written “informed consent” by illegal aliens in state or local custody before they could be interviewed by federal immigration authorities;
- Forbid state and local law enforcement from providing information about release dates/time to ICE except at the end of a sentence for which the illegal alien was already convicted;
- Allow illegal aliens to file civil rights complaints with the state Attorney General (AG) alleging violations of the bills by state and local law enforcement; and
- Cancel all state and local cooperation agreements with ICE or other federal immigration agencies and ban such agreements in the future, most notably including federal 287(g) agreements, which allow designated state and local law enforcement officers to perform limited immigration law enforcement functions.
While the Committee considered the sanctuary bills, large crowds gathered outside to rally in support and opposition. Bristol County Sheriff Tom Hodgson (R), a longtime outspoken opponent of sanctuary policies, testified against the bills, saying “communication and collaboration between local, state, and federal law enforcement needs to improve, a lesson he said he learned while working in New York City after the attacks on the World Trade Center.”
The Massachusetts Republican Party also opposed the bill, writing that it “would ‘protect those who have already broken the law by crossing our borders illegally.’”
When questioned by Rep. Peter Durant (R-Worcester) about deportable offenses for illegal aliens, bill sponsor Sen. Eldridge said, “[i]n my opinion just being caught for speeding should not be grounds for deportation.”
Durant then asked Eldridge whether he and the other bill proponents favored open borders, to which Rep. Ruth Balser (D-Newton) responded that “the question wasn't relevant to the bill.”
Governor Charlie Baker (R) has not yet indicated whether he will veto the bills. However, in 2018, he issued a veto threat against similar legislation saying, “I do not believe the state should be stepping into this. And I especially don’t believe that we should pass legislation that makes it impossible for the state of Massachusetts – with criminals who are currently in our prisons and have been convicted of terrible crimes and may be here illegally – that we should not be allowed to talk to the feds. I think that’s ridiculous and outrageous and I don’t support it,” adding, “I would veto it if it ends up coming to my desk.”
Although both chambers of the legislature are heavily controlled by Democrats, some moderate Democrat members in the House of Representatives may not support the bills. This has led some observers to speculate that the House would be unable to muster the 2/3 majority that would be required to override Gov. Baker’s veto. If this is the case, House Speaker Robert DeLeo (D-Winthrop) is unlikely to have the House vote.