Laura R. Van Zandt
Executive director of Waltham-based REACH Beyond Domestic Violence
“I am afraid.”
“I am worried about my kids.”
“I feel like I am walking on eggshells.”
“What if, by trying to get help, I make things worse?”
As advocates for survivors of domestic violence, we hear words like these often. Survivors of domestic violence live with pervasive fear at home. But now, many of these survivors are afraid of something else: the world outside their homes.
REACH Beyond Domestic Violence is a member of Jane Doe Inc., the Massachusetts Coalition Against Sexual Assault and Domestic Violence. Our organization serves 27 cities and towns north and west of Boston. In these communities, we daily encounter immigrant families as neighbors, friends, coworkers — and as survivors.
My agency supports the Safe Communities Act because it will ensure everyone in our Commonwealth can freely seek protection from our police and our courts without fear of their families being torn apart by deportation. The proposed law would limit police involvement in immigration enforcement.
Police and other public safety officials play a crucial role in helping us protect survivors of domestic violence and their children. In the past, we have successfully encouraged immigrant survivors to overcome their fears and report their abusers to police. We explained that seeking help would not put them at risk of losing their children through deportation. In the current climate, we can no longer say this with certainty.
Worse, our immigrant clients now tell us that they are terrified that contact with any government agency risks separating them from their children or other loved ones. This creates additional barriers to safety planning with immigrant survivors and leaves them and their children in grave danger.
This situation serves no one. It empowers abusers, who use the threat of deportation to silence survivors. It impairs the ability of police to protect the most vulnerable members of our communities — families experiencing domestic violence.
Passage of the Safe Communities Act would make our communities safer for everyone by restoring faith in our police and other government agencies. A truly safe community is one where abusers are held accountable for domestic violence, not their victims.
Waltham resident, Republican State Committee member
After Sept. 11, 2001, we learned that our nation’s security network was a patchwork of agencies riddled with duplication of services and intelligence and a dearth of communication and coordination. The Department of Homeland Security was created to address those issues. The mission of the department, plainly and simply, is to use all law enforcement to safeguard us, the US, where we live, work, and play.
The misnamed Safe Communities Act deviates from this established course of rectitude. Its apparent defiance of federal authority does nothing to make our communities safer. In effect, it will do the opposite, by providing a safe haven for only a small, but troublesome, subset of the immigrant population. It will protect neither the legal immigrant nor immigrants with questionable legal status, but will protect from potential deportation those who have entered the country illegally and have been incarcerated for other crimes. Under this law, the state becomes the defender, shielding the individual from federal authorities.
This law will give extra protection to the individual, but none to the community. State and local employees bound by this law will be helpless in some cases to take all the steps they need to protect the community from potentially dangerous individuals, and could be at risk if they attempted to do so.
Cooperation at all levels of government is the key to having safe and secure communities. The Safe Communities Act drives a wedge between state and federal agencies. To infer that this somehow makes our communities safer is simply a fallacy. It is unwise and unwarranted for our Legislature to create such an adversarial relationship with our federal government. It is an onerous and regressive law that undermines law enforcement efforts to keep our communities safe from bad actors.
The intent of the legislation is to thwart enforcement of federal immigration laws by binding the hands of state and local law enforcement. It is impossible to see how this would make our communities safer. Giving safe haven to those who disregard the law, any law, is an infringement on the safety and security of all people.
(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 email@example.com.