Divide on Sanctuary Cities Roils Massachusetts

BOSTON (CN) – As sanctuary cities spread across Massachusetts, the threatened loss of federal funding has caused pressure to mount for lawmakers considering a bill that would take the movement statewide.

Proposed by Sen. James Eldridge, D-Acton, just days after President Donald Trump’s inauguration, the Safe Communities Act would bar state and municipal law enforcement officials from cooperating with Department of Homeland Security on immigration enforcement actions.

There is no hearing on the bill scheduled yet, but it has drawn 50 co-sponsors since arriving at the state Legislature’s Joint Committee on Public Safety and Homeland Security on Feb. 22.

Among the bill’s detractors, however, is Bristol County Sheriff Thomas Hodgson.“Who is any elected official to decide how much of a federal law to follow?” Hodgson said in an April 3 phone interview. “We created an environment where nobody wants to cooperate with anybody. If you want to change the law, then lobby Washington to change it.”

Last week, Hodgson testified before Congress that the federal government should issue arrest warrants for any politician whose city harbors what he reportedly called “criminal illegal aliens.”

Discussing his position on the phone this week, Hodgson warned that creating a “sanctuary state” would attract the international drug trade and sex trafficking seen in sanctuary cities.

“We’re the most generous nation in the world,” he said. “We allow over 1 million immigrants in annually. Our immigration laws have always been intended to benefit the United States. They are not intended to benefit transnational gangs.”

Eldridge did not return a request for comment, but the Safe Communities Act is not his first attempt at such legislation.

A bill Eldridge proposed in the state’s 2013-14 session would have limited local cooperation with federal immigration enforcement. It failed to make it out of committee, however, as did a similar bill Eldridge proposed in the 2015-16 session. Co-sponsors of Eldridge’s bill have roughly doubled each  time. The first effort had 13 co-sponsors, and the second 24.

U.S. Attorney General Jeff Sessions raised the stakes for the bill last week by saying any community applying for federal grant money would have to certify its compliance with federal immigration law. Those found noncompliant would see their money clawed back, Sessions warned.

Sessions’ remarks did little, however, to change the course of communities that have adopted sanctuary-city status, including Boston, Revere and Somerville.

“The threat of cutting federal funding from cities across the country that aim to foster trusting relationships between their law enforcement and the immigrant community is irresponsible and destructive,” Boston Mayor Marty Walsh said in a statement.

The American Civil Liberties Union of Massachusetts is meanwhile pushing lawmakers to pass the bill.

“The ACLU remains deeply committed to supporting efforts to keep New England as a safe and welcoming place to live,” Carol Rose, executive director of the ACLU Massachusetts, said in a March 28 press call. “We will continue to work in the courts, in the state legislature, and in communities throughout the commonwealth and New England to send a clear message that immigrants are welcome here and should not fear their local government.”

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