Keeping Immigration Out of Police Work Keeps Everyone Safer

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By Mayor Joseph A. Curtatone

Recently the Baker administration announced a new policy for how the Commonwealth of Massachusetts handles interactions between state police and federal immigration officials. When asked a question about one specific part of those changes during a radio interview, which involves reporting violent criminals to federal immigration authorities, my initial reaction was that it sounded “prudent” and that it simply followed our existing procedure in Somerville. Violent criminals have never had a free pass in Somerville and never will.
Yet in the wake of answering that question many have asked if the City of Somerville has changed its stance on immigration policy, and I want to state definitively for anyone concerned on that front that: nothing has changed with how we view or treat immigrants in our community. And I am still out there fighting for humane immigration policy and reform both at the state and the federal level. I want to reaffirm here the bedrock principles on which our local immigration policy rests.
First, we do not believe in tearing apart families. Federal immigration policy is a mess of contradictory and sometimes impossible to follow regulations. Many immigrant families find themselves in a situation where some family members have their documentation up to date and others have fallen into undocumented status. Yet we do not believe in ripping apart marriages or separating parents from their children or persecuting grandparents who have come to live with their families. Tearing at those family bonds would be tearing at the very fabric of our community, driving decent people into underground existences. We believe humanity should be our guiding principle when it comes to immigration policy.
Second, we want our police to continue to work with everyone in our city to practice effective community policing. No one should fear reporting crimes to the police, including our undocumented residents, who need to know that they if they are victims or witnesses that they can call on police without fear of immigration consequences. Mixing up immigration enforcement into our public safety efforts undermines our efforts to keep our community safe. Our local police are responsible for keeping the local peace, not in acting as surrogates for federal immigration authorities, just as they don’t act as enforcement agents for the Internal Revenue Service or the Environmental Protection Agency.
This approach is working in Somerville. The data show it. Somerville’s community policing efforts have proven extraordinarily effective, dropping violent crime in our city by 31% over the past 12 years and property crime by 11%. We rank well below the state and national averages in every category of violent and property crime. Somerville is far safer because of community policing, and community policing means we prize the safety and well-being of every person in our city regardless of their immigration status.
Third, we do not waste valuable police time and resources randomly profiling people in our community. It would be an impossible task in a city where people speak 52 different languages. Our diversity is our strength and we will not create a climate of suspicion and fear by targeting hard-working, civil people. We’re all neighbors and we should treat our neighbors with respect.
Finally, in cases where we arrest someone for a violent crime and that person’s immigration status is in question, we do alert federal authorities. Again, our priority is to keep the local peace. We offer no sanctuary to violent and hardened criminals. Persons stopped for misdemeanors regardless of immigration status are subject to state laws and procedures for the misdemeanor in question, but we do not alert federal immigration in these cases. We will not tear apart families over, for example, a traffic violation.
We are still analyzing the details of Governor Baker’s immigration policy changes and consulting with organizations we work with regularly including the Massachusetts Immigrant and Refugee Advocacy Coalition (MIRA), Centro Presente, and other Trust Act advocates to analyze the policy and its implications. If it does violate our core principles or give rise to unintended consequences, we will alert state authorities to our concerns and work to bring the policy in line with our principles. We did this before at both the state and federal levels with the now defunct Secure Communities program, which in classic Orwellian fashion made our communities less secure.
For three decades Somerville has served as a shining example of how humane immigration policies can help a city flourish. Any other approach would divide our community and would not reflect Somerville’s core values. Our commitment to treating every person in our community with respect remains unshaken.

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