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Opinion | Marc McGovern

Our communities are safe — don’t let ICE tell you otherwise

Birchat Kedir of Ethiopia, Olivia Meyerhoffer of France, and Mariama Cire Sylla of Guinea (from left) at an immigration rally on the Boston Common during the 21st annual Immigrants’ Day at the Massachusetts State House on April 5, 2017.
Birchat Kedir of Ethiopia, Olivia Meyerhoffer of France, and Mariama Cire Sylla of Guinea (from left) at an immigration rally on the Boston Common during the 21st annual Immigrants’ Day at the Massachusetts State House on April 5, 2017.CRAIG F. WALKER/STAFF PHOTO

The news these days can be like a hall of mirrors. As mayor of Cambridge, I know my city is safe, peaceful, and thriving. After three decades as a sanctuary city, Cambridge is enjoying a 60-year low in its crime rate. And the roughly 30,000 immigrants who make Cambridge their home are kind, hard-working, and law-abiding.

In the hall of mirrors, however, we’re the wild wild west.

Perhaps not Cambridge itself — it’s hard to fabricate mayhem out of whole cloth — but cities like us. For two years, sanctuary cities have been among the Trump administration’s favorite bogeymen. We’re lawless. We protect violent criminals. We’re a threat to good, law-abiding Americans and must be put in our place.

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We’ve come to expect nothing better from the Trump administration, which lies relentlessly in pursuit of its xenophobic and authoritarian agenda. But we do expect better in Massachusetts, where we like to base our policies on facts and democratic values.

Yet as the campaign for the Safe Communities Act gains steam again on Beacon Hill, we’re seeing the same tired tropes being used to frighten the public and bully legislators. Beware, opponents of the bill say: The Safe Communities Act will make Massachusetts a “sanctuary state.” How terrifying.

Don’t fall for it.

Nothing in the Safe Communities Act would keep anyone from being arrested and prosecuted for a crime, nor would it stop Immigration and Customs Enforcement from operating in our communities. All the bill would do is limit state and local law enforcement involvement in purely civil immigration matters, so everyone feels safe turning to the police or to our state courts for protection.

I want everyone to feel safe seeking help in an emergency without fear of deportation. I want everyone to feel safe calling 911, even if they don’t have papers. Public safety comes first for me — and that means we need crimes to be reported, investigated, and prosecuted. If households with undocumented members don’t dare speak to the police for fear of deportation, that’s a problem. The Safe Communities Act would send a strong message that the police serve and protect all of us, and thus help restore trust.

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The Safe Communities Act would also allow continued collaboration with ICE and other federal agencies on criminal matters. And although it would limit certain kinds of information-sharing, it would still allow police to communicate with federal authorities about a person’s citizenship, immigration status, or arrest information. ICE may also be notified when someone completes a jail or prison sentence.

Most important, the Safe Communities Act would leave our criminal justice system exactly as it is today. Police would still investigate crimes. Suspects would still be prosecuted and go to prison if convicted. If anything, we’d see the system run more smoothly, because fewer defendants would be taken away by ICE before their cases are adjudicated.

The Safe Communities Act embodies two principles that I cherish: equal protection under the law and due process. It reflects best practices in community policing, and it embodies Massachusetts values. I am proud to support this bill, and I believe wholeheartedly that it would make us all safer.


Marc McGovern is the mayor of Cambridge.