Should the Legislature adopt the Safe Communities Act?
January 12, 2018
By Maria Szymanski and Shaunna L. O'Connel - The Boston Globe
President/chief executive, New Hope, a domestic violence agency that serves 41 cities
and towns in Southeastern Massachusetts
While most of us celebrated the New Year with friends
and family, some Massachusetts residents were just
trying to remain safe from domestic violence. For
immigrant survivors especially, seeking help is fraught with difficulty.
Recently a local agency called me trying to help one such woman. She had fled with her young child and was now homeless. Normally I would suggest getting a restraining
order so she could safely return home. But this woman is undocumented. She fears
losing custody of her child -- a US citizen -- through deportation, complicating our
ability to ensure her safety.
As CEO of New Hope, an agency that works with survivors of sexual and domestic
violence throughout Southeastern Massachusetts -- including in Foxborough,
Lakeville, Mansfield, Norton, Raynham, and Sharon -- I see far too many of these
cases. Fear of separation from family members has always been a concern. But with
the federal government encouraging ever-more police involvement in immigration
matters, these concerns are sharper than ever. New Hope and our partner Jane Doe
Inc., the Massachusetts Coalition Against Sexual and Domestic Violence, strongly
support the Safe Communities Act.
The legislation draws a clear line between law enforcement and immigration
enforcement, allowing police to focus on public safety. Passage will strengthen bonds
between police and immigrants in our communities, and encourage witnesses and
victims to report crimes and assist police investigations -- particularly important for
survivors of domestic and sexual violence.
By making it clear that in Massachusetts, police are focused on protecting public
safety, this legislation would encourage immigrant survivors to get the help they need.
We’ve seen firsthand how hard our local police work to protect survivors and their
children. They know the current climate of fear hurts their ability to keep these
families safe. This is why Massachusetts law enforcement leaders support creating
clear guidelines for interacting with federal immigration enforcement agencies.
I see this bill as a life-saver. I hope you will join me in urging our legislators to pass the Safe Communities Act, and keep our police focused on what they do best: serving and protecting the public.
Shaunna L. O’Connell
State representative, Taunton Republican whose district includes parts of Easton and
The so-called “Safe Communities Act” legislation in no way keeps the people of Massachusetts safer.
The bill would prohibit the use of state tax dollars for
US Immigration and Customs Enforcement, and largely prohibit any state agency from working with ICE officials. The legislation would make Massachusetts a sanctuary state for illegal immigrants. Both the financial and public safety costs would be enormous.
Massachusetts spends significant sums annually on Medicaid claims for immigrants who could not prove their legal status -- the state calculated the cost at $93 million in fiscal 2011.
The Center for Immigration Studies, a research organization that supports reduced
immigration, estimates there are 225,000 illegal immigrants presently in our state and
that 25 percent receive welfare benefits. If Massachusetts was to become a sanctuary
state, we would also be a magnet state; thus, the number of illegal immigrants would
On the public safety front, no one should ever forget the tragic loss of Matthew Denice.
The 23-year-old Milford motorcyclist was killed in 2011 by a drunk-driving illegal
immigrant who dragged him to his death after Denice became entangled beneath his
truck following a collision. Witnesses could hear Matthew begging for his life and for
the driver to stop.
Kate Steinle was fatally shot in 2015 by an illegal immigrant who had been deported
five times but released from jail in the sanctuary city of San Francisco. Although Jose
Ines Garcia Zarate admitted to shooting Steinle, a jury acquitted him of murder and
manslaughter. He was convicted of being a felon in possession of a firearm and now
faces federal gun and immigration charges.
Last year, the Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court ruled in the case of Sreynoun
Lunn that our court officers do not have authority to detain any person solely at the
request of ICE. Several months after that ruling, Lunn was arrested for allegedly
attacking a wheelchair-bound woman in broad daylight to steal $2,000.
The first obligation of government is to keep our citizens safe. This bill would protect
criminal illegal immigrants, not our legal residents. Moreover, it would be financially
devastating to our state budget.