The legislature failed immigrants last session

Donald Trump’s term in office will end in less than a week, and with it we hope his administration’s horrific legacy on immigration will end as well. The Biden administration, although painfully limited in their scope and imagination, has committed to take incremental steps to reverse the Trump-era decisions that enabled ICE, CBP, and DHS to terrorize immigrant communities nationwide.

With Massachusetts’ legislature beginning its new session just a few days ago, we also have an opportunity to reverse the course of Trump’s agenda and create systems to protect all of our communities. The deportation machine didn’t begin with Donald Trump, and the Legislature has no excuse but to take a stand repudiating these policies and protecting their constituents.

With supermajorities in the House and Senate, the Legislature should have already taken a stand against the federal government’s cruelty and protect immigrant communities in Massachusetts. But they still can choose to act now.

During last session, two commonsense immigration reform measures that had widespread public support - both of which were introduced long before Donald Trump ever became president - were either killed in committee or sent to study indefinitely, despite every Democrat’s vocal stance against Donald Trump and his agenda. As a strongly blue state, we should have been a model for the rest of the country for how to protect our communities on the state level, but in practice we have fallen far behind many states with much less Democratic  legislatures.

We wrote about each bill and what happened to it below:

Safe Communities Act:

This bill would protect immigrant communities, people of color, and our communities by limiting spending of local police resources on the federal government’s policies, prohibiting police from asking questions about immigration status, and protecting people of color from racial profiling by police. It would essentially end state cooperation with ICE and prevent deportations in Massachusetts. It would also prevent the creation of a Muslim registry.

This bill was left to die in the House Ways & Means Committee chaired by Rep. Aaron Michlewitz.

  • Originally filed in 2017, advocates have been frustrated over years of inaction.
  • The bill first was killed in the Public Safety Committee chaired by Rep. Harold Naughton in 2018.  It was sent to study, and the only Democrats on the committee who dissented from that action were Sens. Chang-Diaz, Rush, and Rep. Matias
  • Re-filed in 2019, the bill didn’t see any movement until July of 2020, when the Public Safety Committee (to their credit) advanced it.
  • However, when session ended, the bill expired in House Ways & Means, chaired by Rep. Aaron Michlewitz.
  • In order to pass, the bill will need to be re-introduced this year, and voters will need to show up to a third committee hearing in 5 years and try to convince legislators to take action.

Work and Family Mobility Act:

16 States & DC offer licenses to the undocumented

This bill would have provided drivers’ licenses to everyone in Massachusetts regardless of immigration status. With 78% of Massachusetts workers driving to work, the ability to get a license is essential - especially during a pandemic when shared transportation is a public health risk. This has already been passed in a number of other states, and studies show that similar legislation has lowered the number of uninsured drivers on the road, reduced the number hit-and-run accidents, lowered average insurance premiums across the board due to less risk, created revenue from license applications, and boosted state economies through increased auto and insurance sales.

17 other states & DC have passed such laws, including most recently Virginia. This is a vital protection for our immigrant neighbors, since traffic stops where the driver lacks an ID can easily lead to detention and deportation.

This bill was left to die in the Senate Ways & Means committee, chaired by Sen. Michael Rodrigues.

  • The bill was originally filed in 2019, after immigration activists grew frustrated with years of inaction on other bills like the Safe Communities Act.
  • It looked the bill was not moving anywhere, but immigration activists including Cosecha Massachusetts staged a hunger strike in the State House which got a lot of press.
  • Then, the Transportation Committee advanced the bill on a 14-4 vote (Sen. Dean Tran and Reps. Orral, Howitt, and DeCoste voted against the bill, and Reps. Paul Tucker & Rep. William Straus abstained)
  • However, no action was taken by the Senate Ways & Means committee, so the bill died.
  • Advocates who didn’t want to give up got legislators to file the bill as an amendment to an economic development bill that was voted on in July 2020. Despite getting 60 co-sponsors on the amendment, Rep. Christine Barber of Somerville chose to withdraw the amendment without a vote. The amendment would have only needed 81 votes to pass.

In a few days, Donald Trump will no longer be in office, but the expanded infrastructure and budget for ICE that was built during his administration remains. We have a moral obligation to cut off ties with ICE (while our federal elected officials work to abolish the agency) and make Massachusetts a safe place for everyone, regardless of immigration status. We hope the new Legislature will do their duty to their constituents and act on these bills quickly in the new session.

Some legislators have told us they believe the last session accomplished a lot more than they were expecting. And there were real wins (education funding, the ROE Act, a ban on conversion therapy). But at least when it came to standing up for immigrants, one of the more vulnerable populations in our commonwealth, the legislature failed to offer a basic rebuttal to the brutal policies of the Trump administration. Sure, they gave some wonderful speeches, but the undocumented in our state need action, not hot air.