Lawmakers, activists renew push for ‘sanctuary state’ bill

This is a file image of the Massachusetts State House. (WLNE)

BOSTON (AP) — Democratic lawmakers announced Tuesday they’ll renew their push to make Massachusetts a sanctuary state, joining activists in saying the action is needed to ensure all residents can seek medical care, emergency aid, and court and police protection without fear of deportation, especially during the coronavirus pandemic.

The Safe Communities Act would end state and local law enforcement involvement in deportations, including ending agreements that allow local jails and prisons to house federal immigration detainees.

It would also bar law enforcement and court personnel from asking people about their immigration status and set limits for when those local officials can notify federal officials of someone’s impending release.

“By making clear that immigration enforcement is a federal responsibility, and by ending local and state involvement, we will ensure that the people of Massachusetts will feel safe turning to local law enforcement and health care resources when necessary,” state Rep. Ruth Balser, of Newton, said.

Michael Curry, president of the Massachusetts League of Community Health Centers, said immigrant patients have been delaying or avoiding medical treatment for years out of fear that their information will be shared with federal authorities.

That fear has only worsened during the pandemic, with many declining to participate in COVID-19 testing, treatment and contact tracing efforts, he said.

Other groups said some immigrants avoid calling 911 or seeking police or court protection out of fear they might be reported to immigration officials.

“Nobody should live in fear of reporting domestic violence or sexual assault, but this is the reality for far too many immigrant survivors in Massachusetts,” said Hema Serang-Sieminski, policy director for Jane Doe Inc., an advocacy group for sexual assault and domestic violence survivors.

A joint committee of the Democrat-controlled legislature recommended the bill for passage last year, but it ultimately fell short of full approval.

Republican Gov. Charlie Baker has said he’s opposed to a statewide sanctuary law.

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