South

THE ARGUMENT

Should the Legislature adopt the Safe Communities Act?

YES

Marcia Szymanski

President/chief executive, New Hope, a domestic violence agency that serves 41 cities and towns in Southeastern Massachusetts

Handout
Marcia Szymanski.

While most of us celebrated the New Year with friends and family, some Massachusetts residents were just trying to remain safe from domestic violence. For immigrant survivors especially, seeking help is fraught with difficulty.

Recently a local agency called me trying to help one such woman. She had fled with her young child and was now homeless. Normally I would suggest getting a restraining order so she could safely return home. But this woman is undocumented. She fears losing custody of her child -- a US citizen -- through deportation, complicating our ability to ensure her safety.

As CEO of New Hope, an agency that works with survivors of sexual and domestic violence throughout Southeastern Massachusetts -- including in Foxborough, Lakeville, Mansfield, Norton, Raynham, and Sharon -- I see far too many of these cases. Fear of separation from family members has always been a concern. But with the federal government encouraging ever-more police involvement in immigration matters, these concerns are sharper than ever. New Hope and our partner Jane Doe Inc., the Massachusetts Coalition Against Sexual and Domestic Violence, strongly support the Safe Communities Act.

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The legislation draws a clear line between law enforcement and immigration enforcement, allowing police to focus on public safety. Passage will strengthen bonds between police and immigrants in our communities, and encourage witnesses and victims to report crimes and assist police investigations -- particularly important for survivors of domestic and sexual violence.

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By making it clear that in Massachusetts, police are focused on protecting public safety, this legislation would encourage immigrant survivors to get the help they need. We’ve seen firsthand how hard our local police work to protect survivors and their children. They know the current climate of fear hurts their ability to keep these families safe. This is why Massachusetts law enforcement leaders support creating clear guidelines for interacting with federal immigration enforcement agencies.

I see this bill as a life-saver. I hope you will join me in urging our legislators to pass the Safe Communities Act, and keep our police focused on what they do best: serving and protecting the public.

NO

Shaunna L. O’Connell

State representative, Taunton Republican whose district includes parts of Easton and Taunton

Handout
Shaunna L. O’Connell.

The so-called “Safe Communities Act” legislation in no way keeps the people of Massachusetts safer.

The bill would prohibit the use of state tax dollars for US Immigration and Customs Enforcement, and largely prohibit any state agency from working with ICE officials. The legislation would make Massachusetts a sanctuary state for illegal immigrants. Both the financial and public safety costs would be enormous.

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Massachusetts spends significant sums annually on Medicaid claims for immigrants who could not prove their legal status -- the state calculated the cost at $93 million in fiscal 2011.

The Center for Immigration Studies, a research organization that supports reduced immigration, estimates there are 225,000 illegal immigrants presently in our state and that 25 percent receive welfare benefits. If Massachusetts was to become a sanctuary state, we would also be a magnet state; thus, the number of illegal immigrants would significantly increase.

On the public safety front, no one should ever forget the tragic loss of Matthew Denice. The 23-year-old Milford motorcyclist was killed in 2011 by a drunk-driving illegal immigrant who dragged him to his death after Denice became entangled beneath his truck following a collision. Witnesses could hear Matthew begging for his life and for the driver to stop.

Kate Steinle was fatally shot in 2015 by an illegal immigrant who had been deported five times but released from jail in the sanctuary city of San Francisco. Although Jose Ines Garcia Zarate admitted to shooting Steinle, a jury acquitted him of murder and manslaughter. He was convicted of being a felon in possession of a firearm and now faces federal gun and immigration charges.

Last year, the Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court ruled in the case of Sreynoun Lunn that our court officers do not have authority to detain any person solely at the request of ICE. Several months after that ruling, Lunn was arrested for allegedly attacking a wheelchair-bound woman in broad daylight to steal $2,000.

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The first obligation of government is to keep our citizens safe. This bill would protect criminal illegal immigrants, not our legal residents. Moreover, it would be financially devastating to our state budget.

(This is an informal poll, not a scientific survey. Please vote only once.)

As told to Globe correspondent John Laidler. He can be reached at laidler@globe.com.