Sanctuary Cities: Boston

| November 16, 2017 | 0 Comments

The question of the hour is what to do about immigration.

For millions of people living in our country, residence and livelihood are being called into question. DACA is gone, DAPA never got off the ground, and the current federal administration is (at best) hostile to the undocumented. As avenues of activism narrow, the idea of sanctuary cities has come up again and again in the national news – but what does it mean, and how can we understand it?

To be a sanctuary city is not to achieve some sort of official designation. There is no way to really “be” a sanctuary city; it would be a little weird if there was, in fact, because the idea of official local havens from federal and state law is a little dangerous. It’s a pretty wiggly and ambiguous term that is difficult to define on a wide scale. Here, I’m going to focus on the Boston policies that allow us to call ourselves a sanctuary city.

As always, a disclaimer:  I have no official legal training of any sort. All I do is read, interpret, and describe. I welcome any and all criticism, disagreement, and challenging concerning all of my writing – disagreement is the foundation of discourse, and discourse is what builds common ground.

The foundation of our unofficial status comes from the Trust Act, proposed by City Councilor Josh Zakim and filed on June 27, 2014. The Trust Act affects the Boston Police Department and their interactions with federal agents from Immigrations and Customs Enforcement, known colloquially as ICE. The real, specific function of the Trust Act is to lay out a policy concerning BPD’s response to civil immigration detainer requests.

What a civil immigration detainer requests entails is the following: an ICE agent asks a BPD or Boston court officer to hold an individual for up to 48 hours strictly because of a question regarding their immigration status. The request is, by its definition, not mandatory, but it is a request from a federal official to a local official. There’s no strictly legal pressure for a local official to comply, but short of a policy like the Trust Act there would be no non-discretionary reason to refuse.

The Trust Act says clearly and plainly that Boston’s law enforcement officials “shall not detain an individual on the basis of a civil immigration detainer request”. There are, of course, exceptions, but they all deal with contingencies concerning the individual’s criminal record: if they have ever committed a violent crime, for instance, or are on the Massachusetts Sex Offender Registry.

The Trust Act is a definite action taken to limit the city’s compliance with ICE officials within legal limits. It doesn’t challenge immigration law, but it provides a substantive step towards being more open and friendly towards Boston’s immigrant population. The text on the first page of the act, laying out background information and the purpose of the act, gives some well-stated reasons for the city’s action:

“The City of Boston seeks to ensure that all immigrants are able to fully participate in the civic and economic life of their neighborhoods and nurture and grow the spirit of unity in our City;

The City of Boston desires to provide opportunity, access, and equality for immigrants, and highlight the essential role immigrants have played and continue to play in moving Boston forward;

… When local law enforcement officials indiscriminately honor all ICE civil immigration detainer requests, including those that target non-criminal aliens, immigrant residents are less likely to cooperate and public trust erodes, hindering the ability and effectiveness of Boston’s police force.”

The Trust Act forms the backbone of Boston’s policies that earn it the title of sanctuary city. Knowing exactly how our city contributes to the immigration debate is vital for our understanding of our community, our policies, and our place in the country as a whole; it also gives us an opportunity to think about our shortcomings and how far we have yet to go.

The Trust Act:


featured photo credit: funcrunch funcrunch-20170905-8476 via photopin (license)

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Category: featured, Politics, Social Activism

Lolo Serrano

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