BOSTON – Today the Joint Committee on Public Safety and Homeland Security reported out the Safe Communities Act (S.1401 and H.3573) with a recommendation that it “ought to pass.” The bill now goes to the House Ways and Means Committee.
The Safe Communities Coalition, a diverse group of immigrant community leaders, civil rights and legal advocates, faith leaders, and health and human service providers, deeply appreciates the Committee Chairs’ and members’ thoughtful consideration of this bill, and their attention to the thousands of Massachusetts residents who have called and emailed legislators, urging its passage.
“This is a matter of public health and public safety, and it means the world that the Massachusetts Legislature is recognizing it as such,” said Eva A. Millona, president and CEO of MIRA, one of the leaders of the coalition. “We hope we can count on leadership in both chambers to advocate strongly for this bill’s passage now. It’s time for everyone in our Commonwealth to feel safe seeking help when they need it.”
The Safe Communities Act would draw a clear line between public safety and civil immigration matters and protect immigrants’ basic rights. The goal is to restore community trust at a time when many people avoid calling 911, going to the hospital, or seeking police or court protection, for fear that they or a loved one will be reported to Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE).
“We are thrilled that the Safe Communities Act will move on to the next important step toward becoming law,” said Carol Rose, executive drector of the ACLU of Massachusetts, another leader in the coalition. “In a time when not even a global pandemic has slowed down this administration’s attacks on immigrants and people of color, Massachusetts must do everything in its power to ensure that we don’t lift a finger or spend a dime of our precious state or local resources to help deport our friends and neighbors.”
“I thank the leadership for listening to our voices and for putting the lives of our immigrant community before any other agenda,” said Damaris Velasquez, director of programs and co-founder of Agencia ALPHA and a member of the coalition Steering Committee. “This is a step forward to make Massachusetts a more humane state. This victory should inspire us to continue the work until our laws reflect our human values.”
The bill is backed by about 200 endorsing organizations. Health care providers have been particularly vocal, especially during the COVID-19 pandemic, as they have seen immigrants avoid testing, care and contact-tracing for fear of being turned over to immigration agents. On Monday, the committee chairs and legislative leaders received an endorsement letter from the Massachusetts Medical Society, the Massachusetts Chapter of the American College of Physicians, MGH Chelsea HealthCare Center, and the François-Xavier Bagnoud Center for Health and Human Rights at Harvard University; on Tuesday, it was followed by a letter from the Massachusetts General Hospital Executive Committee on Community Health.
“Public health efforts to contain the COVID-19 epidemic cannot succeed until the state signals to all members of our most vulnerable and marginalized communities that it cares more about their well-being than their legal status,” the second letter concluded. “Uncoupling the work of state agencies from immigration enforcement is a necessary first step to conveying that crucial message. With another wave of COVID-19 infections likely imminent, time is of the essence.”
Some of the most impassioned advocacy for the Safe Communities Act has been led by survivors of domestic and sexual violence, who have stressed that fear of deportation keeps many immigrants from reporting abuse or going to court, with potentially deadly consequences.
“On behalf of our 57 member programs and the thousands of immigrant survivors of sexual and domestic violence who seek support and services each year, we celebrate this step towards ensuring safety and stability for immigrant communities across Massachusetts,” said Hema Sarang-Sieminski, policy director of Jane Doe Inc. “This bill sends a message to immigrant survivors that they can seek safety, health care and support without fear in Massachusetts.”
Rev. Dieufort Fleurissant, of Haitian Americans United and the True Alliance Center, a member of the coalition Steering Committee, has spoken often of the pervasive fear among mixed-status Haitian families, and how it has hindered access to health care and basic food assistance in the COVID-19 crisis.
“Today’s news is very hopeful and worth celebrating, knowing how fearful immigrant families are in this climate,” Fleurissaint said. “Now this is the time for the full Legislature to pass the Safe Communities Act and ease the anxiety, worries and trauma of all who have long suffered silently. Families deserve to tend to their children and seek protection from abuse without being afraid.”