On May 8, UUSC Vice President and Chief Program Officer Rachel Freed testified on a panel before the Joint Committee on the Judiciary at the Massachusetts State House in support of H.3033, a bill designed to end 287(g) agreements in Massachusetts by preventing state and local funds from being used to enforce federal immigration laws. The panel supporting H.3033 was organized by the Massachusetts Immigrant and Refugee Advocacy Coalition (MIRA) and included UU Mass Action Executive Director Laura Wagner and Bishop Felipe Teixeira of the Franciscan Order of Saint Joseph Cupertino. Support for H.3033 was high with over 30 speakers supporting the bill and only three in opposition, including Bristol County Sheriff Hodgson who infamously offered to send his inmates to build the U.S.-Mexico border wall without pay.
The hearing came one day after Texas Governor Greg Abbott signed SB4 into law, a vehemently anti-immigrant bill criminalizing cities that want their law enforcement to focus on “safety” and not immigration. SB4 prohibits Texas law enforcement from practicing “sanctuary” policies and allows authorities to question someone’s immigration status based on racial profiling. The bill is now facing lawsuits from civil rights organizations.
287(g) agreements are one of the main ways that local and state law enforcement agencies become empowered to serve as an arm of Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) and are granted authority to identify and hold undocumented immigrants for deportation. These agreements deputize police and sheriff officers to act as immigration agents and provide them with minimal training before authorizing them to perform immigration-related duties. . Implementation of the program is entirely funded by the local agencies themselves rather than the federal government.
In addition to using local resources to support federal aims, 287(g) agreements do not make communities safer. In her testimony, Freed pointed out that “When police and sheriffs become immigration agents, victims and witnesses of crime, including victims of domestic violence, are less likely to come forward to cooperate with law enforcement. Deputizing police to act as ICE agents in our communities opens the door to racial profiling and other civil rights abuses and undermines public safety by decreasing trust in police. Let’s not use already stretched local resources to do ICE’s job for them.”
Passing H.3033 and ending 287(g) agreements is an important first step for the state, but also not enough. This is why many Massachusetts communities are rallying behind immigrants and are focusing on getting involved at the local level.
UUSC continues to work in coalition in Massachusetts to support these efforts as well as to pass groundbreaking state legislation like the Safe Communities Act (S.1305 and H.3269). The Safe Communities Act would set a new standard for pro-immigrant state legislation. It both goes further to restrict local agents’ participation in immigration enforcement and also prohibits state law enforcement agencies and the Mass. Registry of Motor Vehicles from allowing federal access to their data, limiting their ability of the federal government to use that data for the purpose of a Muslim registry or another tracking system based on religion or national origin.
Freed ended her testimony posing a question to the Mass. legislature and Governor Baker: “Which side are we on? Are we going to be complicit with President Trump’s anti-immigrant agenda? Or will we take a bold stand to defend and protect our communities from it?”
Update as of May 24, 2017: H.3033 was reported out favorably from the Joint Committee but the planned vote was “indefinitely postponed” today. UUSC is closely following the legislation to see where Massachusetts lands.