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Businesses push for Safe Communities Act

Mass. Business Immigration Coalition lobbies legislators

Yawu Miller
Yawu Miller is the former senior editor of the Bay State Banner. He has written for the Banner since 1988.... VIEW BIO
Businesses push for Safe Communities Act
Meg Glazer, Vice President of Business Development, Glacon Contracting, addresses lawmakers during a State House briefing. BANNER PHOTO

A coalition of business leaders is pushing for the passage of the Safe Communities Act in the Massachusetts Legislature. The legislation would bar police in the state from acting as immigration law enforcers, bar police and court officials from inquiring about immigration status unless required to do so by law and create standards for local law enforcement interactions with Immigration and Customs Enforcement agents.

For Larry O’Toole, CEO of Gentle Giant Movers, passage of the act is sound business policy.

“Foreign workers are absolutely key to our existence,” he said, during a recent briefing with lawmakers and their staff at the State House. “These are great people who are committed to living in the U.S. But there are so many obstacles put in their path. They live in terror.”

O’Toole and other leaders with the Massachusetts Business Immigration Coalition told the lawmakers that immigrant workers, who account for 1 in 5 of all workers in Massachusetts, are critical for the state’s economy and for their businesses.

While business owners are barred by law from hiring workers without proper documentation, undocumented workers do find work in Massachusetts — often in low-paying jobs. When federal immigration officials crack down on undocumented workers, the raids often have ripple effects in immigrant communities, affecting the livelihoods of not only those without documents, but also green-card-holding and U.S. citizen members of their households.

Meg Glazer, vice president of business development at Glacon Contracting, said the atmosphere of fear many immigrants live under puts a strain on her workers.

“If we maintain a hostile atmosphere in Massachusetts, they’ll go somewhere else,” she said.

The fear many immigrants in Massachusetts face has risen sharply with the nativist policies of the administration of President Donald Trump, who vilified immigrants on the campaign trail in 2016 and has overseen unprecedented numbers of detentions and deportations of immigrants. The Trump administration has also ended Temporary Protected Status for immigrants from Haiti and El Salvador. Entire sectors of the state’s workforce, such as home health aides, could be disrupted when current TPS holders lose their status.

Speaking during the briefing, State Rep. Liz Miranda said the Trump administration’s crackdown on immigrants has hit her 5th Suffolk District constituents hard.

“We don’t have to look to the border to see families being separated,” she said. “It’s happening in our communities.”

The Safe Communities Act, sponsored by Jamie Eldridge in the Senate and Miranda and Rep. Ruth Balser in the House, was originally filed in 2016. Immigrant groups working with the Massachusetts Immigrant and Refugee Advocacy (MIRA) Coalition have worked to build support for the measure, to which Gov. Charlie Baker has voiced opposition.

Proponents of the bill say its provisions also would improve public safety, as barring police from questioning people about their immigration status would remove a barrier undocumented people face when reporting crimes to the police.

The law also would require that immigrants being held in police custody be informed of their right to decline an interview with immigration officials or to have an attorney present. The so-called Miranda rights U.S. citizens receive upon arrest do not pertain to immigrants being questioned by ICE officials.

Police, court officers and jail officials would also be barred from notifying ICE when an immigrant is about to be released from police custody. Oftentimes, immigrants out on bail are taken into ICE custody and deported before their cases can be tried, a practice Safe Communities Act supporters say denies them their due process.

The bill is scheduled for a hearing before the Joint Committee on Public Safety and Homeland Security Dec. 2.