Mayor Martin Walsh and Police Commissioner William Gross said Boston’s newly beefed-up sanctuary-city law is the best way to increase public safety — despite one critic warning it will make immigration enforcement more difficult.
“It will protect public safety and bolster public trust in our communities,” Walsh said on Thursday before signing the amendments to the city’s sanctuary-city ordinance into law in the library in East Boston, a neighborhood with a large immigrant population. “It will make clear to our immigrants and police officers that they are not immigration officers.”
City councilors, led by Josh Zakim and Lydia Edwards, the bill’s main proponents, last week unanimously approved amendments to the city’s 5-year-old Trust Act, further limiting the role police can play in situations that deal with civil immigration matters. The vote comes after a discovery by the ACLU this year that Boston police continued working with federal immigration officials to capture illegal immigrants in spite of policies blocking coordination.
The amendments specifically prohibit officers from sharing information with the division of ICE focused on civil enforcement matters. Previously officers were blocked from detaining a person solely based on their immigration status.
But Jessica Vaughan, of the Center for Immigration Studies, said, “No illegal alien should be released pending proceedings because they are inherently a flight risk.”
She said the idea that immigrants don’t report crimes because they fear deportation for themselves or loved ones is “a myth.”
“ICE isn’t just going to sit on its hands — it’s going to find the criminal,” she said. “And instead of just arresting them in the jail, they’ll be coming into the communities.”
“You should feel safe coming to the BPD. Before, the lines were blurred,” said Gross, who said this is meant to encourage cooperation and confidence in the police by immigrant communities. “Our interest is protecting the people against crime. And together we send this message here today: that all are welcome, but don’t think you’re going to commit crime against Bostonians, because Bostonians are from everywhere and Bostonians deserve justice.”
The amendments differentiate between ICE’s civil division, which focuses on deportations, and the Homeland Security Investigations Division, which carries out criminal investigations. Boston cops continue to be allowed to work with HSI on criminal cases.
Walsh noted that Boston is a safe, prosperous city right now, even after years of welcoming illegal immigrants.
He added, “It goes counter to every single message that is coming out of Washington.”