CSJ’s Immigrants’ Rights Day at the State House

This originally appeared in the Standard Times on July 24, 2019

Boston- Wednesday, dozens of Southcoast and Brockton residents attended the Coalition for Social Justice’s Immigrant’s Rights Day at the State House. Citizen advocates prioritized two pieces of legislation, “An Act to Protect the Civil Rights and Safety of All Massachusetts Residents” commonly called the “Safe Communities Act”, and “An Act Relative to Work & Family Mobility” known as “The Work & Family Mobility Act.”

“Immigration policy may seem like something happening far away in Washington, but we start here at home,” said Maria Fortes, who organized the event. “The momentum and urgency for the need to stand up and fight back has never been stronger.”

The Coalition for Social Justice has a history of organizing support for immigrants’ rights. “We’ve been working on the legislation for months and gathered hundreds of postcards from residents in support of these pieces of legislation. Then, Trump announced the raids last week and we knew we needed to start having more in-person conversations with elected officials in Boston to let them know the time is now to pass this legislation.”

“It doesn’t matter where you are born and if you are documented or not, once you are here, you deserve to have simple rights like being able to call 911 safely and drive a car,“ said Eden Cuevas-Aponte a Coalition for Social Justice volunteer from Durfee High School student in Fall River.

The Safe Community Act would make sure that MA’s taxpayers’ money does not go to ICE for the purpose of detaining and the deportation of immigrants. It would end 287g Agreements that contract local law enforcement agencies to do the work of ICE agents. MA is the only state in New England with such agreements, and one of them is with the Bristol County Sheriff’s Office. Advocates see this policy as crucial in a time where national policies are escalating the separation of immigrant families.

Currently, the collaboration of local law enforcement with ICE puts community safety at risk. Immigrants, including legal immigrants, can be subject to deportation under Federal Policies[1]. With heightened senses of insecurity under the Trump Administration’s most recent vocal attacks on immigrants, residents are less-likely to call 911 in the case of domestic violence, employment exploitation, or when they are victims of other crimes, fearing they will raise the attention of ICE[2].

“These two pieces of legislation are important for creating an atmosphere of trust with local law enforcement. It is imperative to all of us that immigrant communities feel safe enough to report crime. When crime is reported, everyone in the community is safer,” said Corinn Williams, Executive Director of the New Bedford Community Economic Development Center who has been serving hundreds of families affected by family separation policies.

The law would also protect due process in the case of ICE detainments in Massachusetts, something denied to residents now. Currently, if ICE questions someone in local custody, they are not Mirandized and often don’t know their rights. This law would require due process be given to all people coming into contact with law enforcement in MA regardless of immigration status. It would also make asking about immigration status, unless required by law, off-limits to law enforcement or the courts. Part of the statute would also severely limit local law enforcement and court officials from notifying ICE when undocumented residents are being released from local custody.

The other priority piece of legislation is the Work & Family Mobility Act. It would create a driver’s license that doesn’t require a social security card, or proof of lawful presence or citizenship. It would require passing a driver’s test and proof of residency.

Living in the Southcoast, residents know that driving is nearly a necessity. Public transit doesn’t meet all the needs of families trying to get to school, work, and everyday living.

Supporters of the Work & Family Mobility Act also see it benefiting more than just undocumented people.  “It helps seniors, domestic violence survivors, and transgender people, all groups that have challenges accessing the materials required for a Real ID compliant driver’s license,” said attendee Gene Lawton, an activist from Brockton who attended the event.

The group hopes to see both pieces of legislation moved to the floor for a full vote sometime this fall. Until then, the Coalition for Social Justice will continue to host weekly phone banks on the issues to reach out to voters and encourage them to get involved with the campaign.

“The issue isn’t going away. Immigration and public safety will continue to be important issues in the state and national discussion through 2020,” said Fortes.

For more information contact Maria Fortes at the Coalition for Social at beebeefortes@yahoo.com or 508-415-8385.