MANY OF US CHOOSE TO LIVE in Massachusetts because of its freedom, relative to the rest of the world. While imperfect, our Commonwealth is safer, richer, cleaner, and fairer than most other places I’ve lived.
This position of relative privilege and freedom gives Massachusetts residents both the opportunity and the obligation to work together to strengthen our democracy, and to stand together against the current presidential administration’s relentless assault on civil rights. A good place to start is by refusing to collaborate with the Trump deportation machine.
Since coming to power, President Trump and his attorney general, Jeff Sessions, have launched an effort to indiscriminately deport all 11 million people who are in the country without proper papers. Deportations in Massachusetts and nationwide are on the rise, and have become so indiscriminate that anyone without legal status – and many with status – are now being swept up by Immigration and Customs Enforcement, or ICE, agents. The agents are lurking around courthouses, and who knows where else, ready to swoop down on people whose papers are not in order, too often separating parents from their children, dividing families, and splintering communities. In just the first eight months of the Trump administration, arrests of non-criminal immigrants living in New England have tripled. Meanwhile, last week, Trump and Sessions issued regulations to cut in half the ability of people to enter our nation legally.
Massachusetts stands to lose a great deal if the Trump administration continues to target immigrants as part of its nationalistic effort to create a Fortress America. The danger to Massachusetts comes in terms of economic prosperity, public safety, and human rights.
Economically, Massachusetts is a high-tech hub that needs the best and brightest talent from around the world to give us both a creative innovation edge and the global business contacts that are key to our economic success. As a center of higher learning, Massachusetts colleges and universities rely on international students and faculty to bring global perspectives to our classrooms. And it’s a big non-secret that international students subsidize the cost of higher education for Massachusetts-born residents. It’s a win-win for everyone. Trump would turn it into a lose-lose.
As a magnet for tourism, Massachusetts needs a welcoming environment to attract people and tourism dollars from around the world. How ironic – and sad – would it be if would-be tourists become too fearful of our government to walk the Freedom Trail? Already, tourism is down.
Like most other states, Massachusetts also relies on seasonal and year-round workers to run our restaurants, build our homes, clean hotel rooms, provide care for our children and aging parents, cultivate our crops, and otherwise ensure the Massachusetts economy continues to hum. Here, too, our economy has taken a hit.
Overall, it’s pretty evident that the Trump deportation machine is bad for business in Massachusetts.
Cooperating with Trump’s deportation scheme also undermines public safety. Contrary to a lot of politically-motivated rhetoric, local and state collaboration with ICE doesn’t enhance public safety. Criminal laws already exist to target anyone who poses a danger to public safety, regardless of immigration status. Nobody’s proposing sanctuary from criminal laws – we have courts, lawyers, and a criminal justice system that deal with crime every day. But not having immigration status is a civil offense, not a crime.
On the other hand, state and local collaboration with warrantless immigration detentions actually threatens public safety for all residents of the Commonwealth. By turning the local police into ICE agents, we undermine trust in local law enforcement. That, in turn, drives witnesses and victims of crime underground. Who’d want to call the local police if it could get them deported? If immigrant families view local police as agents of Trump’s ICE squads, why would they ever report a crime? That’s not public safety; it’s authoritarianism.
Finally, let’s not forget the human impact of collaborating with Trump’s indiscriminate deportation plan. Most undocumented people live in families that include both US citizens and noncitizens, building lives together. Cooperating with ICE takes children from their mothers and fathers — without making anyone safer.
Consider Francisco Rodriguez, the father and active member of the community in Chelsea, who now suddenly faces deportation after being allowed to remain in Boston for a decade. In 2006, Rodriguez came to the United States fleeing violence in El Salvador. He pays taxes on his job as an MIT janitor, and has three children who are US citizens – the youngest was born just last week while Rodriguez was sitting in a Massachusetts jail awaiting deportation. That doesn’t make anyone safer, and it seems a terrible waste of human life.
Also recall John Cunningham, the beloved chairman of the Gaelic Athletic Association, an 18-year, tax-paying resident of Massachusetts, a family man, and leader in the Boston community. After Cunningham dared criticize President Trump in the press, ICE agents descended on his home in the middle of the night, arrested him, and later deported him. To what end? Was it because he criticized the government?
What is happening to Francisco Rodriguez and John Cunningham and thousands more highlights the senseless harm caused by the Trump administration’s deportation machine. Right now, the key thing slowing Trump’s massive deportation plan is a shortage of ICE agents on the ground.
That’s where Massachusetts can act.
Freedom-loving voters should demand that Massachusetts lawmakers take steps to stop local and state law enforcement and courts from collaborating with the Trump deportation machine beyond what is strictly required by law.
Massachusetts is uniquely poised to do this. Just last month, in a case called Commonwealth v. Lunn, the Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court ruled that it is illegal for Massachusetts state and local law enforcement officers to hold people on voluntary warrantless federal requests, known as ICE detainers. ICE detainers are civil, not criminal, in nature, and they exist solely to assist with the deportation process. Fortunately, ICE detainer requests are just that – requests. That means Massachusetts can say no; indeed, the court ruled that we must say no because our laws simply don’t allow detentions without due process. Arresting people, absent a criminal warrant and strict due process protections, violates the Constitution.
Rather than use this legal victory to elevate Massachusetts as a beacon of liberty, however, Gov. Charlie Baker last week proposed a bill that would actually strengthen the Trump deportation machine by authorizing state and local law enforcement to arrest and detain people simply at the request of ICE. This attempt to further entangle state and local law officers in federal immigration enforcement is both unconstitutional and dangerous to the administration of justice and public safety.
Baker’s plan also would impose unworkable requirements on courts by asking individual officers to make difficult determinations about a person’s immigration status under the notoriously complex federal immigration law, although officers lack the training, expertise, or tools to do so. Finally, despite rhetoric to the contrary, Baker’s plan doesn’t only target the worst of the worst, but rather marks for deportation a broad range of people, including those with decades-old convictions for minor offenses such as selling pot or shoplifting.
A far better approach for Massachusetts is to pass legislation, such as the Safe Communities Act, that limits our state’s complicity with federal deportation squads. The act would limit state and standardize local participation in ICE raids and roundups. It would enhance public safety and respect the due process and constitutional rights of everyone, all while carefully complying with federal requirements for comity and communication with ICE.
It’s an elegant approach to a complex problem – one that Massachusetts lawmakers and their constituents should embrace and act to pass as quickly as possible.
History will honor the states and leaders who showed the courage to stand up to the Trump administration and their efforts to demonize and denigrate immigrants as a way to exert control over all of us. We, the people of Massachusetts, have an opportunity to seize the historical moment, and to stand together, united by our values, rather than our fears. Let’s pass the Safe Communities Act.
Carol Rose is the executive director of the American Civil Liberties Union of Massachusetts.