Police end possibility of immigration holds, but governor’s bill could bring policy back

Former police commissioner Robert C. Haas told the City Council policy didn’t allow immigrants to be detained solely for federal immigration needs, despite a written policy that allowed it.

Cambridge police have scrapped a policy that allowed officers to hold suspects who are undocumented immigrants past the time they should have been released solely to cooperate with a “detainer” request from immigration enforcement officers. The city acted after the Supreme Judicial Court ruled July 24 that law enforcement agencies don’t have the authority to keep suspects for extra time if the only reason is an immigration detainer.

Police Department spokesman Jeremy Warnick said Tuesday that the department “has rescinded its Secure Communities/ICE Detainer Policy and, per the Supreme Judicial Court’s ruling, the department will not detain any arrestees solely on a federal civil immigration detainer.” None of the nine ICE Detainer requests received by the department were honored.

Warnick added that “this current position” could change if the state Legislature adopts a bill proposed by Gov. Charlie Baker. The governor, also responding to the SJC decision, filed a bill Aug. 1 that would allow authorities to comply with detainer requests involving undocumented immigrants who have been convicted of certain crimes or are suspected of terrorism.

Council resolution

That prompted the City Council to pass a resolution Monday calling on the Baker administration to end its attempt to go around the court ruling. Though the resolution, which will be sent to Baker, won unanimous adoption only late in the sixth hour of a marathon summer meeting, councillors found time to condemn the governor’s actions.

“We have a governor who very prominently came out during the election to say that he wasn’t voting for Donald Trump, yet continues to support things Donald Trump does,” vice mayor Marc McGovern said. “We as local elected officials are going to have to take a stand and push back against the hatred and the bigotry.”

Councillor Nadeem Mazen urged Cantabrigians to rally against Baker at the polls; in 2014, 5,589 residents, or 17 percent of city voters, selected Baker and Lt. Gov. Karyn Polito as their choice to lead the state.

Safe Communities Act

Baker’s proposed bill conflicts with another proposed bill, the Safe Communities Act, filed in the Legislature in January but still in committee. The Safe Communities Act would prohibit local and state law enforcement officials statewide from honoring detainer requests. The entire Cambridge delegation supports the Safe Communities Act; Baker has said he’s opposed.

The police department policy that allowed officers to cooperate with detainer requests from Immigration and Customs Enforcement was in effect despite the widespread belief that Cambridge, as a self-professed “sanctuary city,” did not cooperate. Federal officials also listed Cambridge as one of the communities that does not cooperate with ICE.

City councillors in 2014 asked for assurance that police would not honor detainer requests from the federal agency unless there was a criminal warrant or a public safety reason apart from immigration status. Former police commissioner Robert C. Haas sent a letter to the Council affirming that police policy didn’t allow immigrants to be detained solely because of an ICE detainer – yet the written policy allowed it.

Warnick said in April that police had received nine detainer requests from the agency since 2013 but had not held anyone because the targets were already in custody for other reasons.

Prisoners of “war”

Isabel Espinosa and Naima Drecker-Waxman speak Monday during City Council public comment.

The governor’s bill is now in the Joint Committee on the Judiciary. The Senate chairs of the committee sponsored the Safe Communities Act, and two of the four Senate members are co-sponsors; neither of the two House chairs of the committee are co-sponsors. The committee has not scheduled a hearing on the bill.

“The war on immigrants is here. It’s on our doorstep,” said Emmanuel “Manny” Lusardi, a resident who has been acting as a liaison for immigrant affairs out of McGovern’s office. Speaking during public comment at Monday’s council meeting, he reminded politicians imprisoning immigrants of the promise of openness posted as poem on the Statue of Liberty.

Also speaking during public comment were Naima Drecker-Waxman and Isabel Espinosa, residents and representatives of the Massachusetts Immigrant and Refugee Advocacy Coalition, who noted that green card holders and even U.S. citizens have been caught up in immigration-based detention. Baker’s bill “would only be exacerbating an already flawed system,” Espinosa said.


This story’s headline was updated Aug. 9, 2017, to attempt to better reflect that Cambridge hasn’t honored the specific detainer requests received from the federal government; the story includes clarification that detainer requests didn’t meet department standards for a detainer.

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