Elected officials, community leaders and families faced with deportation rallied for legislation to demand immigration reform for bills such as the TRUST Act on the steps of the Massachusetts State House Wednesday.
The TRUST Act and protest are responses to the federal Secure Communities program that requires police departments to send the Federal Bureau of Investigation and the Department of Homeland Security the fingerprints of arrestees, a report stated. The program has been responsible for the deportations of numerous undocumented immigrants with no previous criminal records.
“This bill seeks to improve relations between Massachusetts law enforcement and the communities they serve by limiting state efforts to enforce controversial federal immigration law,” the report stated. “… Statistics show that this program has devastating effects on our communities as it tears families apart and pits law enforcement against the individuals they serve.”
Despite objections from Mass. Gov. Deval Patrick, immigration groups, local law enforcement officers and lawmakers, the federal government implemented the Secure Communities program.
Mass. Sen. Jamie Eldridge is backing the bill, according to the report. Proponents of the bill back it because it would prevent the damaging effects of the program, including broken families and communities, damaged public safety, misuse of local resources and unequal access to justice.
“We are supportive of the TRUST Act because it [Secure Communities] threatens relations between immigrants and local law enforcement,” said Frank Soults, communications director for the Massachusetts Immigrant and Refugee Advocacy Coalition. “The program keeps local immigrants from helping their local police with crime because they fear for the stability of their friends, neighbors and families.”
The TRUST Act aims to clarify that Massachusetts law enforcement agencies are not responsible for enforcing federal immigration laws and leave the work for the Immigration and Customs Enforcement. The bill would also direct law enforcement not to arrest, detain or transport individuals for federal immigration purposes.
“Sen. Eldridge spoke about the bill because of the launching of [his] campaign,” Soults said. “Legislators hear they don’t want this extension of local authorities to do the jobs of the federal government, and they responded.”
The bill will provide individuals ordered released by Massachusetts judges and magistrates not to be detained for ICE in spite of the court’s release order, according to the report.
As of December, 45.6 percent of the 768 immigrants were deported in Massachusetts through the Secure Communities program since 2008 because they had criminal records, the report stated.
“What has been happening is local Boston police have been honoring ICE detainment regulations and are spending a lot of time helping deport people,” Soults said. “Over 50 percent didn’t have criminal records.”
The national average for deporting undocumented immigrants for committing a crime is 76 percent, which means Massachusetts deports more people without criminal records more often than states such as Texas, Arizona and New York, according to the report.
“[Secure Communities] makes BPD the de facto arm of immigration enforcement,” Soults said. “The police should not act as an arm of federal immigration authorities and hold people in prisons, spending locals’ money on federal actions for people with no previous criminal records.”
Lee Altman contributed to the reporting of this article.