Wendy Wayne, director of the Immigration Impact Unit at the Committee for Public Counsel Services, testified in favor of the Safe Communities Act – a bill designed to protect the civil rights of all Massachusetts residents.
Wayne, speaking before the Joint Committee on Public Safety and Homeland Security on Friday, said the bill “prioritizes the needs of the Massachusetts criminal justice system over the civil immigration needs of ICE” by allowing state authorities to notify federal immigration officials about the release of individuals only after they have completed their criminal sentences.
“When defendants are arrested by ICE while their cases are still pending, they rarely return to court to resolve those open criminal cases,” Wayne said. “That leaves defendants unable to assert their rights or to be held accountable, and leaves victims without closure.”
The bill bars law enforcement and court officials from asking people about their immigration status, unless otherwise required by law. It would also prevent police, court officers and jail officials from notifying ICE that someone is about to be released during a pending case.
“While ICE has arrest powers, those powers are only to take people into custody to facilitate their deportations, not to punish people, rehabilitate them or protect the public,” Wayne said. “That is the responsibility of our criminal justice system, and ICE’s arrests of people with open cases interferes with that responsibility.”
The bill would also put an end to 287(g) agreements, which allow state officials to maintain contracts with ICE.
The CPCS Immigration Impact Unit helps defense attorneys fulfill their constitutional duty to advise their clients about immigration consequences of their criminal cases. The unit also provides training throughout Massachusetts on the immigration consequences of criminal conduct, distributes written training materials and updates on significant legal issues, and provide post-conviction litigation support.