Mayor Joseph A. Curtatone to sign an executive order returning discretion
on protecting community to local law enforcement officials
SOMERVILLE – Mayor Joseph A. Curtatone announced at a press
conference this morning that he will sign an executive order that will limit Somerville’s participation in Secure Communities, a flawed federal program that has left communities less safe, torn apart families and deported people with no criminal convictions.
The Secure Communities program allows U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) to ask local law enforcement to hold arrested immigrants for up to 48 hours after the person has posted bail or been ordered released by the courts. Nationwide, half of the people deported through Secure Communities nationwide have no criminal convictions. In Massachusetts, there have been more than 1,000 deportations since the program was enacted two years ago, and 61 percent of the people deported have no criminal convictions—and in some cities and towns in Massachusetts, that percentage rises to 79 percent. ICE has admitted that about 5 percent of people held under detainers turn out to be U.S. citizens.
Mayor Curtatone’s executive order places its trust in Somerville law enforcement officials and returns to them the discretion on how to best protect the people and property of the city. The executive order will stipulate that unless ICE agents have a criminal warrant or Somerville officials have a legitimate law enforcement purpose unrelated to enforcement of immigration laws, ICE agents shall not be given access to individuals or allowed to use City facilities for investigative interviews or other purposes.
“Secure Communities leaves us anything but secure. It began with the best intentions, but in practice tears apart families who have committed no crime, deports otherwise law-abiding individuals for offenses as small as a broken tail light, and asks our law enforcement officials to not use their best judgment and discretion, but instead to blindly hold individuals for immigration with no probable cause—an act that a federal court recently ruled is a violation of the Fourth Amendment,” said Mayor Curtatone. “This is a broken system that everyone knows is broken and crying out for reform. Today, Somerville joins the TRUST Act movement to begin this needed change.”
“When people with no criminal convictions are deported, something is wrong,” said John Connolly, At-Large Alderman and Chair of the Public Safety and Health Committee of the Board of Alderman. “As a longtime champion of public safety here in Somerville, I’m concerned with protecting our families, not persecuting them. Make no mistake, if someone is guilty of a serious crime or a threat to our community, we will prosecute and take all precautions necessary to protect our citizens.”
“This is an important action to help our immigrant communities here in Somerville and to stand up for what is right in the way that we treat immigrants who have come here to improve their families lives and contribute their hard work to our community,” said Ward 5 Alderman Mark Niedergang. “This will also enhance public safety by encouraging immigrants to contact the police when they have been the victim of a crime or when they have knowledge of a crime.”
Roughly 63 percent of the undocumented population living in the United States has been in the country for more than 10 years. Mayor Curtatone’s executive order will eliminate any fear held by those people who are witnesses or victims to crimes that they will be deported for reporting a crime to law enforcement officials.
“Crime in Somerville is down by one-third since 2008, not because we put more officers on the street or deported people with no criminal convictions, but because we addressed every factor that affects public safety, including supporting strong families and strong education,” said Mayor Curtatone. “Ripping apart families removes the first line of defense against a young person walking down the wrong path and making bad decisions. It engenders fear in the immigrant community that discourages witnesses and victims from cooperating with police, which is vital to law enforcement officials investigating and solving crimes.”
From 2008 to 2011, ICE placed more than 5,000 detainers on Massachusetts residents, and 75 percent of those people—which included some minors—had no criminal record. Under President Barack Obama’s administration, approximately 66 percent of deportation cases—more than 2 million nationwide—involve someone who committed a minor infraction, such as a traffic violation, or had no criminal record.
In February, a federal judge ruled on a class action suit on detention policies, allowing Massachusetts and Connecticut residents, and others held by ICE, to challenge the lengthy detention of people who pose no danger to the community. In his ruling, U.S. District Judge Michael Ponsor rejected the government’s “dubious interpretation” of immigration statutes and characterized the government’s arguments as unable to “withstand scrutiny.” Federal courts in Oregon, Pennsylvania and Rhode Island have also ruled that holding people for ICE without probable cause violates constitutional rights, and nine sheriffs in Oregon decided to stop honoring ICE detainer requests because of the court’s decision.
“This executive order will free up our law enforcement officials and place our trust back in them to go after real, legitimate threats to our community’s safety, find them, arrest them and prosecute them to the full extent of the law,” said Mayor Curtatone. “Our officials will continue to cooperate and work with ICE, but will no longer participate in violating the constitutional right of due process, or waste our time and resources on people who are valuable, contributing members of our community who tried to play by the rules, only to find that there was no line to get into to become a citizen.”
More than 60 municipalities have modified their policies on ICE holds, including New Orleans, Newark, N.J., Miami, San Francisco and New York City. Both California and Connecticut have passed statewide TRUST Acts, a version of which is before the Massachusetts State Legislature. Massachusetts’ bill would provide that individuals ordered released by Massachusetts judges and magistrates will not be detained for ICE in spite of the court’s release order, that those with criminal records will go to ICE, and those without criminal records will not.
A signing ceremony for the executive order will take place on Thursday, May 22, at 5:30 p.m. at the Somerville Police Headquarters, 220 Washington St. in Somerville.