Why has MA failed to stand up to Trump on immigration?

Ever since Donald Trump was elected President, progressives have been looking for ways to stand up to his racist and authoritarian immigration policies. People have flooded to airports to protest his travel ban. Members of Congress have visited the camps on the Mexican border and decried the inhumane conditions there and Trump’s cruel policy of family separation. Wayfair workers staged a walkout last month to protest their employer supplying furniture to Trump’s border camps. Closer to home, activists have worked to pass Sanctuary city ordinances in their hometowns to ensure that local police don’t cooperate with Trump’s ICE department.

But the biggest policy that Massachusetts could pass to protect immigrants has made no progress in our legislature, which is 79% Democrat. The “Safe Communities Act” has been the focus of activist energy for the past 3 years. The law would make Massachusetts a “Sanctuary State” like California, which passed such a law in 2017. Although our Republican governor has said he would veto such a law, Democrats have the votes to override any veto.

Safe Communities Act hearing, June 2017 Safe Communities Act hearing, June 2017

So what’s been happening? On June 9th, 2017, hundreds of activists converged on Beacon Hill to testify in favor of the bill, packing the hearing room to overflow. Testimony was heart-wrenching and activists asked the Public Safety Committee to continue advancing the bill. And then… a year later, on June 11th 2018, the committee chair, Rep. Harold Naughton (D-Clinton), send the bill to “study.” But the study order was just a distraction. The committee never completed any study, it was simply a way of killing the bill. What’s worse, there was no recorded vote when the bill was sent to study: we only know that Sen. Chang-Diaz, Sen. Rush, and Rep. Matias opposed the action because they publicly dissented. We don’t know how the other 16 members of the committee voted.

There was no recorded vote when the bill was sent to study: we only know that Sen. Chang-Diaz, Sen. Rush, and Rep. Matias opposed the action. We don’t know how the other 16 members of the committee voted.

This year marked the beginning of a new legislative session, and the Safe Communities Act was filed again, but as of publication, the Joint Committee on Public Safety and Homeland Security has still not even scheduled a hearing on the bill.  A healthy majority of all Democrats in the legislature have co-sponsored the bill, saying they support it, so why hasn’t it even had a hearing?  Why are we three years into the Trump administration with no plan to protect immigrants? Shouldn’t Massachusetts be leading?

Now, there’s a bigger threat. A group of conservatives, including several elected officials, are planning to put a question on the 2020 ballot which would prevent Massachusetts from becoming a sanctuary state and would nullify the sanctuary city laws that some cities have already passed.  The signatories include Sheriff Thomas Hodgson, who offered to send incarcerate people from his own jails to the southern border to build Trump’s wall.  And among the proponents of this anti-immigrant law are several legislators:  Sen. Dean Tran (R-Fitchburg), Rep. William Crocker (R-Barnstable), Rep. Normal Orrall (R-Lakeville), and Rep. Colleen Garry (D-Dracut).

Among the proponents of this anti-immigrant law are several legislators:  Sen. Dean Tran (R-Fitchburg), Rep. William Crocker (R-Barnstable), Rep. Normal Orrall (R-Lakeville), and Rep. Colleen Garry (D-Dracut).

It’s unclear if the folks behind the anti-Sanctuary ballot question will get enough signatures to actually qualify the question for the 2020 ballot, but we’ll keep you updated on ways to get involved to oppose it.

Now is the time for our legislature to act decisively and pass the Safe Communities Act to protect our immigrant neighbors.  Trump has been in office for several years, but Massachusetts can still join the other blue states that are standing up to Trump and pass the Safe Communities Act.