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What’s the Boston Trust Act?

Police Commissioner William Gross in Mattapan on Saturday.
Police Commissioner William Gross in Mattapan on Saturday. Aram Boghosian for The Boston Globe

A City Council hearing Tuesday turned testy over whether Boston police provided information that led federal immigration authorities to arrest a Honduran immigrant for deportation. At the center of the debate is whether Boston’s version of the Trust Act, intended to reassure immigrants that city police will not help deport them, should be reviewed and updated to reflect the new federal attention to illegal immigration.

Here is a primer on the act.

The history: The Trust Act, sponsored by councilor Josh Zakim, was passed unanimously by the City Council in 2014. The ordinance allows local police to ignore requests from federal immigration officials to detain unauthorized immigrants, unless those immigrants are also wanted for a separate crime.

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The act represented a shift away from a federal program known as Secure Communities, which seeks to find criminals who are here illegally and deport them by allowing immigration officials to access the same fingerprints that state and local police routinely send to the FBI after an arrest.

Under the administration of Mayor Thomas Menino, Boston had piloted Secure Communities in 2006, and the program was expanded nationally in 2008. But critics said the program led to too many detentions and deportations for minor and nonviolent offenses, an assertion disputed by US Immigration and Customs Enforcement.

Recent examples: The debate has flared in recent years. In March 2018, the Globe reported that ICE had asked Boston police to hold 68 immigrants for possible deportation in the previous year, but that the city department did not “directly transfer any of the suspects to ICE custody,” according to then-Police Commissioner William B. Evans.

At Tuesday’s hearing, the current commissioner, William Gross, defended the department’s actions amid revelations that police helped federal officials arrest a construction worker wanted for deportation after he sought compensation for a workplace injury in 2017. Gross said the immigrant was also under investigation for identity theft, which concerned police enough that they complied with the federal warrant.

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But a lawyer said the man had not been charged with any criminal activity and was only wanted on a civil warrant.

Echoes elsewhere: By adopting the Trust Act, Boston joined Somerville and a wave of other municipalities across the country that have restricted or opted out of the Secure Communities program. At Tuesday’s hearing, Zakim cited California as an example of a state that more explicitly bars local police from sharing immigration information with federal authorities unless ordered to, for instance, by a court.

In Connecticut, police in several communities have come under fire after the ACLU said they have been aiding ICE in violation of the state’s 2013 Trust Law, The Connecticut Post reported last month.


Jeremiah Manion of the Globe staff contributed to this report. Material from previous Globe coverage and Associated Press reports were also included.