The Winchester Multicultural Network stands in solidarity with all those who feel threatened by the Trump administration’s latest round of immigration harassment. While as of Monday, July 15, the wide-sweeping raids announced by the administration have not yet come to fruition, the damages inflicted on civil liberties in this country cannot be easily undone. These actions foment an environment of fear and uncertainty, and none of us can feel truly safe when some among us are threatened. As Mary Bauer, Director of the Southern Poverty Law Center (SPLC), explained, “Immigrants and immigrant communities all over the country are in hiding and people are living in these terrified, terrorized ways, because that is the point of this whole action, whether enforcement actions take place or not.”

In response to this situation, the Multicultural Network’s new Immigrant Justice Committee is advocating for Winchester to become a Safe Community through passage of the “Safe Communities Act.”

This Act aims to maintain MA residents’ trust in their local police force by ensuring that the police are not entangled in immigration matters, and by protecting due process in all interactions with law enforcement. The Act supports an environment where all people living, working, or visiting an MA community can be confident that interactions with town/city agency or officials will not lead to questions about their immigration status.

The key features of the Safe Communities Act are: (click on “+” sign for features details)

No questions about immigration status

Bars law enforcement and court personnel from asking people about their status unless required by law. The State Police already have a similar policy. Many immigrants fear that calling 911 or speaking to police will lead to separation from family members – especially children. Therefore, they fear involving law enforcement, making them more vulnerable to domestic abuse, wage theft and other crimes.

Protects due process

Before Immigration & Customs Enforcement (ICE) questions someone in local custody, police must obtain their consent using a form that explains their right to decline an interview or have their own attorney present. Without these protections, people often make statements or sign documents that may jeopardize their immigration cases.

Limits notifications to ICE

Bars police, court officers and jail officials from notifying ICE that someone is about to be released from custody. This would help ensure that people aren’t detained by ICE before their cases are fully adjudicated, which denies justice to victims and due process to defendants. However, ICE may still be notified when a person is being released upon completing a jail or prison sentence.

No more 287(g) agreements

Ends contracts with ICE that allow state and county personnel to act as federal immigration agents at state taxpayers’ expense. Such contracts are the most extreme form of entanglement with ICE, and when people are placed into ICE custody before they can go to court, their right to due process is undermined. Massachusetts is the only state in New England to have such agreements, which are in place in the following counties: Bristol, Barnstable and Plymouth counties, and with the state Department of Corrections.

Provides crucial training and accountability

Requires law enforcement agencies to train their personnel about this law, and in cases of an alleged violation, people can file a complaint with the relevant agency or the Attorney General. These provisions would help ensure transparency and tackle problems as they arise.

The Safe Communities Act now before the Legislature is Senate bill S.1401 (Sen. Jamie Eldridge) and House bill H.3573 (Reps. Ruth Balser and Liz Miranda). There are currently 76 House and 21 Senate co-sponsors. In addition, as of April 20, 2018, 30 cities and towns in Massachusetts have declared themselves to be “welcoming cities” for immigrants.

In service of our goal to be a safe and welcoming community for all, the Winchester Multicultural Network has undertaken the goal of making Winchester a welcoming town. Beginning this fall look for us at town events where we will be soliciting opinions about this important issue from Winchester residents and visitors.