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Immigration activists call for changes to proposed Boston ordinance

While immigrants and advocates for them are supporting a proposed ordinance that would reduce the role of local law enforcement in deportations, many of them took issue with the Boston proposal during a hearing before the City Council Thursday night, saying it does not offer enough protections for detainees.

The Boston Trust Act, which was introduced by City Councilor Josh Zakim in June with support from Mayor Martin J. Walsh, would prohibit local officers from holding immigrants for US Immigration and Customs Enforcement for an additional 48 hours after they have made bail or been ordered released.

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The detention of immigrants is part of the federal Secure Communities program, which critics say leads to noncriminals being deported and erodes trust between law enforcement and immigrant communities. Over 100 municipalities across the country, including Somerville and Cambridge, have limited or ended the policy.

On Thursday, the advocates emphasized their opposition to the ordinance proposal by pointing to exemptions that would have people convicted of violent crimes, registered sex offenders, and immigrants on the federal government’s consolidated Terrorist Watchlist referred to immigration authorities.

“Officials should refuse all ICE detainers unless they have a criminal warrant,” Laura Rotolo, an attorney with the American Civil Liberties Union of Massachusetts, told the councilors.

Those exceptions violate the US Constitution by denying immigrants due process, she and other attorneys testified at the hearing, as well as open the city to civil lawsuits.

Federal rulings in the last few years, most recently in Oregon, have raised doubts about the constitutionality of using detainers to hold people for ICE.

One of the aims of the ordinance is to building more trust between law enforcement and immigrants.

“A lot of people are afraid to call 911 for fear of deportation, and that makes our communities less safe,” a recent Salvadorian immigrant who lives in East Boston told the councilors through a translator. The woman, who did not give her name, said she was here illegally after fleeing a civil war in that country.

Critics of the Boston Trust Act argue that more coordination is needed between local and federal authorities, especially in the aftermath of the Boston Marathon bombings.

Jessica M. Vaughan, director of policy studies for the conservative-leaning Center for Immigration Studies, said that not reporting illegal immigrants could open the door to future crimes.

In 2012, Luis Guaman, an Ecuadorian national, was convicted in that country of brutally murdering a Brockton woman and her son. In 2008, a Salvadoran man with a criminal record killed three members of the same family in San Francisco.

Zakim and Councilor Salvatore LaMattina told the audience of more than 100 people that it is incumbent on Boston to pass immigration polices in the face of federal inaction.

After the hearing, Zakim said he would be open to changing the provisions that activists singled out. He also emphasized that the ordinance would protect the city from lawsuits.

Federal statistics showed that nearly half of the 757 deportees from Boston and Suffolk County from 2008 through March of this year had no criminal record. Nationwide, only 20 percent of deportees had no record.

Zakim does not think recent controversy over children from Central America coming across America’s border and needing shelter, possibly in Massachusetts, will affect the ordinance’s chances for passage.

Councilors Michelle Wu and LaMattina said Thursday that they would support the ordinance, while Councilors Tito Jackson and Ayanna Pressley said they were moved by testimony from over 20 people at the hearing.

Oliver Ortega can be reached at oliver.ortega@globe.com. Follow him on Twitter @ByOliverOrtega.
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