IN MARCH OF 1861, a newly-elected Abraham Lincoln delivered his first inaugural address to a nation bitterly divided over its moral, political, and economic future. In that iconic speech, Lincoln articulated his vision for a unified nation—one guided by compassion and bound together by common interests.
“We are not enemies, but friends,” he said. “We must not be enemies. Though passion may have strained, it must not break our bonds of affection. The mystic chords of memory will swell when again touched, as surely they will be, by the better angels of our nature.”
The Commonwealth of Massachusetts has stood at the front line of America’s moral, political, and economic future, because our leaders have – more often than not – been guided by the better angels of their nature. The abolitionist and women’s rights movements originated in New England, where Boston was a stronghold. Massachusetts led on marriage equality. Twelve years ago, we built a model for universal health care, recognizing health care access as a civil rights issue. We stood up for transgender rights and passed statewide nondiscrimination protections. And more recently, we pushed forward sweeping criminal law reform for a fairer criminal legal system.
Now, once again, it’s time we appeal to our better angels and do the right thing on immigration.
Since his election, President Trump and his administration have relentlessly detained and deported as many immigrants as possible, no matter the costs to civil rights and family unity. It seems like every day we hear about new cruelties – from forcible separation of immigrant parents from their children to large-scale immigration raids that terrorize entire communities in one fell swoop. Just a few days ago, people in Boston and across the country joined marches, rallies, and vigils to demand a stop to the practice of taking children from their families at the border.
We mustn’t lose sight of one basic fact: behind these headlines and statistics, there are real lives. The human impact is profound: too many parents ripped from their children, too many spouses separated from each other.
One Massachusetts mother, Lucimar de Souza, was unexpectedly detained on January 30 and held, away from her family, for over three months; five ICE officials were waiting for her outside a government office where she and her US citizen husband were completing a marriage confirmation interview – a step in pursuing lawful immigration status.
Her son – just 10-years-old – visited her while she was detained at the Suffolk County House of Corrections. He begged to stay with her. Home, he said, was not the same without her.
Her story is unique, but Lucimar is not alone. She and her family – her US citizen husband and her US citizen son – are part of a class action lawsuit challenging the Trump administration’s pattern of separating married couples and families pursuing lawful immigration status. The ACLU is fighting in court to protect immigrants from detention and deportation and to keep families together.
Massachusetts, it’s time we appeal to our better angels and fight to keep families together through action in the State House, too.
Following an emotional debate that stretched late into the night, the Massachusetts Senate last month adopted a budget amendment that would protect immigrants in our communities from deportation and family separation. Those budget provisions – most of which were also included in an amendment proposed by Senate Republicans – now sit before a conference committee tasked with reconciling the differences between the House and Senate budget proposals.
The budget provisions are small, but important. Here’s what they would do: They would ensure Massachusetts tax dollars and resources are used to fight local crime and keep communities safe, not support federal deportation and fuel family separation. The provisions would end collaboration agreements that turn sheriffs and local police into federal immigration agents with our state tax dollars. And the provisions would stop local police from asking people about immigration status; when local police get entangled in federal immigration matters, victims of abuse, crime, and exploitation are reluctant to call 911 out of fear that police will ultimately separate them from their families.
Law enforcement supports many of these provisions; they know they’re good for public safety. We are all better off when each of our neighbors and community members feels safe to reach out to police for help.
The provisions would also make sure that all people in local police custody – including immigrants – are informed about their due process rights. A Boston federal judge said ICE broke the law in the way that it handled Lucimar’s detention. The judge also considered other immigrants who do not have lawyers to file suit on their behalf and are thus “also being illegally deprived of their liberty and irreparably harmed by being separated from their families.” In an order, he wrote that “ICE’s illegal actions… have had profound human consequences that would continue without the court’s intervention.”
While state litigation and court intervention are critically important in the fight for immigrants’ rights, Beacon Hill must also act. History will one day judge how Massachusetts treated immigrants.
To the members of the conference committee and House leadership: listen to your better angels. It’s time for the Commonwealth to act on our values and do everything we can to keep immigrant families together.
Carol Rose is the executive director of ACLU of Massachusetts.