William B. Connors Jr.
President & chief executive of Risk Management Advisors Inc., a Rockland-based corporate security consulting firm; former Lowell police officer
No police officer wants to see a dangerous criminal walk out of jail, not when there is a lawful reason to keep him off the street and possibly prevent injury to innocent people.
Yet, until recently, that is what was expected of the State Police when dealing with violent criminals in this country illegally. If they arrested an illegal immigrant with a lengthy criminal record, the defendant could possibly post bail and walk away.
The recent reversal of this ill-conceived policy returns common sense to the role of the State Police in providing reasonable assistance to the US Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) agency. The new State Police policy targets criminals convicted of serious crimes such as violent felonies, drug dealing, and domestic abuse or who are threats to national security.
Here's how it works. A trooper arrests an individual on new criminal charges. The investigation reveals the defendant has a serious criminal record or is a suspected threat to national security. The person is also in this country illegally and his criminal record makes him an ICE priority for lawful deportation. In that case, the State Police may hold the individual for 48 hours for ICE to enforce federal law.
The new policy clearly states, "Investigating and enforcing violations of federal immigration law is not a mission of the Massachusetts State Police." The policy is neither directed at immigrants who are here legally, nor at illegal immigrants who otherwise obey the law.
The new policy does not allow a trooper to ask a person's immigration status in order to facilitate a transfer to ICE, nor does it authorize State Police to stop, arrest, or take into custody anyone on an ICE detainer list. Others may say it will prevent illegal immigrants from reporting crimes or acting as witnesses, but the new policy has been embraced by many communities and is recognized as a vast improvement.
This new policy allows the State Police to keep our communities safer by taking violent and dangerous people off our streets. As a former police officer, I can tell you that's the reason we joined law enforcement.
Brockton resident, board member and office manager for Brockton Interfaith Community
At a time when at least six Massachusetts communities have passed local "Trust Acts" to prevent police from enforcing federal immigration law, Governor Charlie Baker initiated a policy for Massachusetts State Police to participate in the highly flawed federal Priority Enforcement Program. We should strongly urge him to reverse this action.
This program will break the trust between immigrant communities and law enforcement. While it is marketed to the public as a public safety tool -- ridding our communities of hardened criminals -- this is hardly the case. The Priority Enforcement Program is a complicated federal immigration initiative, and although the Baker administration highlighted it will only be targeting immigrants who pose a terror threat to the United States, that is what they want you to think.
In just one month, April 2015, two thirds of the nearly 8,000 people who had immigration detainers placed on them nationwide had never been convicted of a crime, and just 19 percent had a prior felony conviction. In Massachusetts, 40 percent of the 55 people detained that month had no prior criminal conviction.
With statistics like those, it is no wonder that people in the state's immigration community are deeply skeptical of any assurance that only serious criminal offenders or those at risk to national security will be detained under the governor's plan.
Cities and towns adopt local Trust Acts because of judgments by local officials about what is best for their communities, including how best to keep their residents safe. The Baker administration's new policy dispenses with these local judgments. It also returns our immigrant neighbors to living in fear.
The Priority Enforcement Program adds a new level of risk for immigrants who already live in the shadows as they struggle to take care of their families, raise their children, and work to make a better life. Many immigrants flee their countries because they are afraid for their lives only to come here and have to fear that at any moment their families may be torn apart.
To place a further strain on these families -- the vast majority of whom are law abiding -- is unconscionable and unworthy of our democracy.
Last week's Argument: Should Massachusetts support Quincy's bid to be declared the most patriotic city in America?
Yes: 81 percent (29 votes)
No: 19 percent (7 votes)
As told to John Laidler. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.