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City council passes Trust Act, ends participation in Secure Communities Act

Nate Homan | 8/27/2014, 11:46 a.m.
The Boston City Council voted unanimously in favor of a measure that would block Boston police from holding detainees at ...
Immigration advocates celebrate outside of the City Council’s Iannella Chamber after the passage of the Trust Act. (Banner photo) Banner photo

The Boston City Council voted unanimously in favor of a measure that would block Boston police from holding detainees at the request of the U.S. Department of Immigration and Customs Enforcement without judicial review.

The measure, the Boston Trust Act, was introduced by District 8 Councilor Josh Zakim, and requires police to decline all ICE detention requests unless the agency has a criminal warrant for a specific individual, they have been convicted of a felony, are on the Massachusetts Sex Offender Registry or are on the Federal Terrorist Watch List.

The Trust Act ends the city’s participation in the Secure Communities Act, which uses local law enforcement data to identify individuals thought to be in the U.S. illegally. Activists, immigrant’s rights groups, and members of the various immigrant communities have spoken out against Secure Communities, saying that the law prevents immigrants from reporting crimes for fear that they themselves will be investigated.

“The goal of the Trust Act, by its title, is to restore trust in our community and encourage cooperation with the Boston Police Department and other law enforcement agencies,” Zakim said.

“We want to send a clear message to the immigrant communities in Boston: It is safe to call the Boston Police, it is safe to come forward as a witness, it is safe to come forward as a victim of crime. Otherwise, there’s a reluctance to step up and report crimes due to fear that their immigration status could lead to deportation.”

Zakim said that federal courts across the country are finding the Secure Communities Act to be unconstitutional. While those rulings have not been made in Massachusetts, lawyers from the ACLU and private practices are voicing concerns over the law’s constitutionality along with financial concerns given the manpower required from local law enforcement to enforce the law without reimbursement from the Federal Government.

Citing past Ponzi schemes geared directly at immigrants who could not report the scams, Councilor Tito Jackson said that Secure Communities gave predators a green light to target undocumented individuals.

“This will show people who have been living in the shadows that they should have and can have trust in the people who are here to protect and serve,” Jackson said.

“The notion of Secure Communities is one of those great government programs where they name it something that sounds really good, that no one can disagree with. But it’s the opposite. It’s something that destabilizes our communities.”

Councilor Sal LaMattina said that his district is home to the largest immigrant population in Boston and that the Boston Trust Act removes a climate of fear.

“Folks are getting deported in my district for two reasons most often,” LaMattina said. “Driving without a license and possession of marijuana. In the mean time, people are getting robbed, assaulted, abused at home, sexually abused and they don’t report it because they are afraid of being deported.”

Councilor Ayanna Pressley thanked the individuals who came to share their experiences with the Council and praised the activist groups who have worked with the immigrant communities.

“Secure Communities is an oxymoron,” Pressley said. “It creates a fear of being detained because of racial profiling. We are a city who celebrates the fact that we are 53 percent people of color. We champion our diversity. We honor the undocumented community for their contribution to our city, our community and our workforce. We are not just trying to restore trust. There are those who have never known that trust.”

Boston Mayor Martin Walsh and Somerville Mayor Joseph Curtatone have publicly stood against Secure Communities. While Governor Deval Patrick has reluctantly agreed to enforce the law, he has said that he has instructed the State Police not to detain suspects on suspicion of the legal status.

Dominican Development Center community organizer Maria Lora wiped tears from her eyes and said, “I’m overjoyed thinking about how this law will affect my community. We are hoping to achieve justice and erase the fear of the police from our community. We all belong to one city. Now we won’t be afraid of being prosecuted for reporting crimes or targeted for our documents.”