SWAMPSCOTT — About 40 people gathered Sunday afternoon on the green between Governor Charlie Baker’s home and the First Congregational Church to protest the recent passing of a policy that will allow state troopers to check with federal immigration authorities on the status of immigrants.
The policy change was announced by the Baker administration Thursday and is in line with the federal Priority Enforcement Program, the governor said.
On Sunday, while five state troopers stood by, the protesters stood holding signs that read “Justice for Immigrants,” “Your Policy is Immoral,” and “Don’t Deport My Friend’s Mom.”
Leaders of the Essex County Community Organization, which organized the event, spoke to the crowd about the injustice they see in the new policy. The group sang songs in Spanish, and chanted “Si se puede,” or “Yes we can!”
The State Police policy will not allow troopers to arrest someone or take them into custody solely on immigration issues, but they will be allowed to contact Immigration and Customs Enforcement directly to learn whether ICE considers the person a priority target, the administration said. Those detained for ICE must have been arrested for a criminal violation or on a warrant, and detentions must be approved by the troop duty officer, according to the policy.
Alexandra Pinero Shields, director of the Essex County Community Organization, said after the event that Baker’s announcement came as a surprise and without any debate.
“We would like for there to be a public conversation,” Shields said. “There was no time for public comment. This was not democracy.”
Angela Arce, vice president of the organization, told the gathering that she represented “all immigrants, those with documents and those without.”
As as a resident of the United States for 17 years, a taxpayer, and a business owner, she said she is concerned about the new policy.
“I have my own business and employ US citizens,” Arce told the group in Spanish, which was then translated. “But I don’t have documents, what an irony.”
She said that under the new policy, “we can all be stopped on the road, those who have documents, and those who don’t.”
Shields said members of the community are concerned that the new policy will “invite racial profiling and erosion of due process.”
“The trust between immigrants and law enforcement officials decreases, and that’s a dangerous situation for all of us,” she said.
Estrella Diaz, 25, a native of the Dominican Republic who lives in Salem, said the policy could have a personal effect on her.
“The reason I’m here is because I’m an immigrant, and these policies and regulations put by the governor affect my family, my friends, my membership, and my city in a very, very negative way,” she said.
Jim Kinchley of Swampscott, a member of the First Congregational Church of Swampscott, stood in solidarity with the group.
“There’s a possibility of splitting up families, and I don’t know why that would be a priority,” he said.Alexandra Koktsidis can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow her on Twitter @akoktsidis.