Gov. Baker's Immigrant-Detention Legislation Sparks Protests

Aug 8, 2017

People protested in front of the Springfield State Office Building over a bill proposed by Gov. Charlie Baker to allow state and local police to detain immigrants with serious criminal histories.
Credit WAMC

    Activists rallied in Massachusetts today to protest immigrant detention legislation filed by Governor Charlie Baker. 

    About 100 people rallied during the noon-hour in front of the Springfield State Office Building, where speakers sharply criticized the bill that would authorize state and local police to cooperate, on a limited basis, with federal immigration detainer requests.

          Organizers said other protests were planned simultaneously in Worcester and Boston.

    Diana Sierra, an immigrant member and lead organizer with the Pioneer Valley Workers Center, said Gov. Baker’s proposal has put fear into immigrant communities.

    "I think Gov. Baker's bill represents a full frontal attack on constitutional rights and the rights of undocumented immigrants," said Sierra.

    The bill was filed in response to a ruling last month by the Supreme Judicial Court that found police in Massachusetts had no legal standing to arrest people based on civil immigration detainer requests made by federal immigration enforcement agents.  

     Baker in 2016 had announced a policy to expand cooperation between state and federal law enforcement when it came to immigrants with serious criminal histories. He stopped short of calling on state or local police to proactively arrest people for immigration law violations – an approach favored by more hardline conservatives.

     The Republican governor in a statement said the legislation would codify the policy and “allow the State Police to honor specific detainers for violent and dangerous criminals convicted of crimes like murder and rape and provide local officials with the flexibility they need to set policies appropriate to keep their communities safe.”

     But Margaret Sawyer, an immigrant rights worker, said Baker does not need a new law to keep dangerous criminals off the streets.

     " Public safety is not the primary concern here. We believe the real concern is scaring immigrants, reducing our neighborhoods and communities," she said.

     The ACLU of Massachusetts called Baker’s bill “constitutionally suspect.”

     As a counterpoint to the bill filed by Baker, immigrant rights activists want the Democratic-dominated Massachusetts legislature to pass The Safe Communities Act.  It would prohibit state and local police from cooperating with federal immigration agents.

     Rose Bookbinder, a lead organizer with the PVWC said the bill has had a public hearing but has not been voted out of committee.

     "More legislators signed on to the Safe Communities Act as co-sponsors than any other bill, but they are not pushing it in the way we want," said Bookbinder.  " So, we need to push harder and that's what we're doing out here today."

     Organizers at the Springfield rally circulated a petition calling on Baker to withdraw his legislation and planned to deliver it to the governor’s western Massachusetts office.