By Laura Wagner on February 5, 2020
Laura Wagner, Executive Director of UU Mass Action, reports back on the Massachusetts State House hearing for the Safe Communities Act. The Safe Communities Act is state-level legislation that, if passed, would limit law enforcement cooperation with immigration enforcement by barring police and sheriffs from inquiring about immigration status, limit notifications to Immigration and Customs Enforcement, end contracts within the state of Massachusetts that deputize local law enforcement officers to act as immigration agents, and protects due process within the criminal justice system for immigrants. This act is currently under consideration by the Joint Committee on Public Safety and Homeland Security, and must be reported out favorably by a February 5 deadline to go up for a vote in the full Massachusetts House and Senate. If you live in Massachusetts, you can take action here.
It’s easy to motivate action with a message of hate and fear. As I sat and listened to testimony at the recent Safe Communities Act hearing in Massachusetts, this came through loud and clear. The first hour or so was dominated by these messages. I heard the oft-repeated and tired statements about how the person felt afraid of immigrants, and the criminalization of people they’ve never met. One woman claimed that if the Safe Communities Act passed, she would no longer feel safe jogging in her white, affluent, suburban neighborhood.
The fear that we heard so often at the hearing motivates action—action resulting in calls to legislators, writing testimony, and speaking before a joint committee. In December, our coalition learned that calls to legislators that month, against the Safe Communities Act, averaged 200 for every one call in support.
When people are organized, committed to justice, and to each other, we build the power needed to diffuse fear. That’s what the Safe Communities Coalition has been doing for the past eight years. We began as the Trust Act Coalition and, although our bill failed to pass for the past three legislative sessions, each time our coalition grew stronger, smarter and more committed to each other.
At the hearing last Friday, I noted in my testimony that it was the fourth time I sat before the Public Safety Committee—the fourth time—during an eight-hour hearing. People shared their personal stories and the stories of struggle experienced by their families and loved ones. Children fought back tears as they testified about the fear of never knowing when a goodbye may be the last time they see their parents. Spouses spoke about their loved one being imprisoned in detention or deported, leaving their family in desperate circumstances. Women spoke about being in abusive relationships, but enduring the pain to protect their children. For eight hours, again, I listened, and thought about the stories of imagined fears versus the intense, actual fear so many of our loved ones live with every day.
Despite the difficult moments of that day, I took the time to feel the strength in the room. A room filled with 800 people who came from all over the Commonwealth. I felt joy knowing that greater than 100 were watching the hearing from the Hall of Flags—an overflow room was needed because so many people turned out, they did not fit into the hearing room. Our coalition made this happen. We shared resources to make sure those who needed help to come to the hearing received that help. Dozens of volunteers came forward to guide people through the State House to make sure all felt comfortable. Food was shared to make sure that all felt nourished. Tears were shed, hugs were shared and many smiles and laughs were exchanged throughout the day.
It is time for Massachusetts to do the right thing and pass the basic provisions of the Safe Communities Act. But, no matter what happens, neighbor will continue to help neighbor. Truth will be told in public spaces and fear will never be stronger than love.
Photo Credit: Gabe Camacho
About UUSC: Guided by the belief that all people have inherent worth and dignity, UUSC advances human rights globally by partnering with affected communities who are confronting injustice, mobilizing to challenge oppressive systems, and inspiring and sustaining spiritually grounded activism for justice. We invite you to join us in this journey toward realizing a better future!