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Lawrence mayor drops opposition to City Council’s immigration ordinance

A young girl who was part of the overflow crowd waited outside the City Council chambers during Tuesday night’s vote. Barry Chin/Globe Staff/Globe Staff

Lawrence Mayor Daniel Rivera said Wednesday that he will not veto a City Council ordinance to severely limit police cooperation with federal immigration officials, clearing the way for the new policy to take effect this month.

Rivera had opposed the measure as a risk to public safety. But he said the council, which voted 7-2 to pass the ordinance Tuesday night before a standing-room-only crowd in this city with a large immigrant population, had more than enough votes to override his veto.

“The message was clear for its support, and I will not stand in its way,” Rivera wrote in a statement.


The new policy follows similar measures in Somerville, Boston, and hundreds of other cities and towns across the United States. The measure, called the Trust Ordinance, bars police from detaining anyone for US Immigration and Customs Enforcement unless the federal agency has a criminal warrant for an arrest, which complicates deportation efforts because detainers are civil actions.

The Lawrence measure also prohibits ICE from using city facilities, databases, booking lists, or obtaining any information about individuals in custody without a criminal warrant.

Tuesday’s vote followed hours of emotional debate in a council room packed with dozens of supporters in the city of 77,000, where most residents and elected officials are Latino. Councilors and others told stories of immigrants who came to Lawrence seeking a better life, but are forced to live in the shadows, afraid to call police for help for fear that they might be deported.

Advocates for immigrants were moved to tears by the overwhelming support on the council for immigrants, regardless of their legal status.

“It’s making history,” Patricia Montes, the executive director of the East Boston nonprofit, Centro Presente, said after the vote Tuesday. “This is the beginning. It’s not the end.”

Several residents expressed outrage over the ordinance. Two councilors, Roger Twomey and Marc Laplante, voted against the measure and a separate resolution urging the state Legislature to grant driver’s licenses to illegal immigrants, which the City Council also passed 7-2 Tuesday night.


Twomey said the councilors were sworn to uphold the law, so they should not make allowances for people who have broken it.

“They are here illegally and they broke the law by doing so,” he said.

But Kendrys Vasquez, a city councilor, said unauthorized immigrants should not have to live in fear if they work hard and otherwise follow the law. He recounted the story of one of his childhood friends, a bright student who couldn’t get a driver’s license or a college scholarship because his family overstayed their visas and were here illegally. His friend ended up getting a construction job and was later deported.

“What was his crime?” Vasquez said. “He was a good person, a hard-working person. Yet he was deported. We should start protecting those kids. . . . The city of Lawrence is their home.”

Rivera, who is the city’s second Latino mayor and whose older half-brother was deported years ago after falling into crime, did not attend the meeting.

But the mayor reaffirmed Wednesday that he supports deporting criminals, and expressed concern that the ordinance could stand in ICE’s way.

“I can’t support any effort that takes tools off the table for our police department that already has a tough enough time fighting crime in our city,” Rivera said in the statement.


Just last month, police arrested two illegal immigrants in connection with the fatal shooting of a grandmother.

In June, police arrested an illegal immigrant who is allegedly a major player in heroin trafficking. He lived next door to Sandy Almonte, one of the city councilors who voted in favor of the Trust Ordinance on Tuesday.

Rivera said the Lawrence police already work well with immigrants, who make up 37 percent of the city. Lawrence is 74 percent Latino, a mix of native-born citizens and immigrants.

The mayor also said he supports legal status and even driver’s licenses for unauthorized immigrants, as long as they are not criminals.

Advocates for immigrants say the more than 300 communities nationwide have passed similar “trust” measures are seeking to rebuild relationships with immigrants who might fear being deported if they call the police.

The policies gained ground after ICE used a crime-fighting program formerly known as Secure Communities to deport immigrants with minor or no criminal records, a policy that advocates said bred mistrust in immigrant communities.

In November, federal officials renamed the Secure Communities program the Priority Enforcement Program, or PEP, to intensify the focus on criminals, but advocates say that is not enough.

These advocates say the Trust Ordinance does not prevent ICE from deporting criminals, because ICE still receives the fingerprints of everyone arrested by police under the retooled PEP program.

Tuesday night, some Lawrence residents expressed concern for public safety.

“Illegal is illegal,” said Marilyn Mercier, a Lawrence resident wearing a scarf emblazoned with the US flag.


Rivera said the Trust Ordinance will take effect 10 days from the date he receives the approved measure.

Maria Sacchetti can be reached at msacchetti@globe.com. Follow her on Twitter @mariasacchetti