Amid the Trump administration’s anti-immigration policies, Mayor Martin J. Walsh joined other local officials and community advocates Thursday to sign a new, strengthened Trust Act that prohibits Boston police from getting involved in deportation matters.
At a signing ceremony in East Boston, home to many city immigrants, Walsh called the new law a reinforcement of the city’s protections for immigrants who have been subjected to fears of deportation.
“This is a step we proudly take as a city to lead with our values,” the mayor said, before a room full of immigrants-rights advocates. “It’s a signal of our commitment that Boston is a welcoming place, no matter where you came from.”
The Trust Act, first passed in 2014, is Boston’s local law identifying itself as what is known as a Sanctuary City, or a community that distances itself from federal immigration enforcement by preventing police from engaging in deportation proceedings, which are civil cases by nature.
The intent is to promote public safety and trust within immigrant communities by ensuring immigrants who are here without authorization that they will not be targeted for deportation if they cooperate with police in unrelated matters.
Confidence in the Trust Act has been undermined in recent years, however, amid repeated reports of incidents of Boston police cooperating with Immigration and Customs Enforcement, the federal agency that enforces immigration matters.
In one notable case, Boston police alerted ICE agents of the whereabouts of a man who was wanted for deportation, providing a tip that he would be headed to his worksite at a construction company.
The disclosure, first reported by WBUR of Boston, was made in a federal court complaint that the US Department of Labor filed in February accusing a South Boston company, Tara Construction, of retaliating against the worker for seeking workers’ compensation for an on-the-job injury by seeking to have him deported with the help of Boston police. The man was apprehended but was never deported, and is seeking permanent legal status.
In October, the American Civil Liberties Union of Massachusetts also obtained a trove of documents from Boston police showing that the department had a detective assigned to an ICE task force, and had been cooperating regularly with federal immigration authorities on deportation matters. The relationship raised new questions about police compliance with the Trust Act. The detective was ultimately reassigned.
Walsh said the administration worked with Councilor Josh Zakim, who spearheaded the original 2014 law, to draft a new ordinance that would more clearly spell out the intent of the Trust Act.
The new law directly prohibits police from engaging in civil deportation matters, or releasing information about a person’s immigration status to federal authorities for the enforcement of immigration matters. The law also establishes requirements for data collection and training for compliance.
“We are coming at this with the same policy goals as we did in 2014,” Zakim said, adding that the spirit of the law has long been to show that, “in Boston, people are welcome, regardless of their background.”
“It’s not our job to enforce failed immigration policy,” Zakim said.
Commissioner William Gross, who had initially defended Boston police amid questions about involvement in immigration matters, said Thursday that the new law would make clear that “we are nobody’s agents,” even as he remained committed to preserving public safety and enforcing criminal law.
“Once you come to Boston, we will protect you, regardless of where you come from,” Gross said.
Eva Milona, executive director of the Massachusetts Immigrant and Refugee Advocacy Coalition, called the new law “a big victory for our immigrant community.” She noted that Massachusetts is looking at similar, statewide protections, and said Boston police have showed that police can distinguish law enforcement from getting involved in civil deportation matters.
“I hope that state delegation takes note of this, and takes a look at this,” she said. “You have sent a powerful message of city values and protections for all Bostonians, no matter who they are, no matter where they come from.”