A proposed question for the 2020 Massachusetts ballot that would allow police to work with federal immigration authorities and detain undocumented immigrants passed a major qualifying challenge on Wednesday after Massachusetts Attorney General Maura Healey deemed the proposal constitutional.
The ballot question is an anti-“sanctuary state” proposal. In sanctuary cities and states, local law enforcement agencies are prohibited to comply with Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) agents, which request that law enforcement hold undocumented immigrants in custody and hand them over to ICE. While Massachusetts is not a sanctuary state, the Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court ruled in April 2017 that complying with these detainers violates the state’s constitution.
“The proposed law would authorize continued detention where federal immigration officials request it on the basis that the detained person may be subject to removal from the United States and provide an administrative warrant for the person’s deportation, removal, or arrest,” according to the question’s official summary.
The measure is intended to prevent cities and counties from becoming sanctuaries in Massachusetts, in addition to preventing Massachusetts from becoming a sanctuary state itself and allowing law enforcement to work with federal immigration authorities.
Related measures on either side of the divide have stalled in recent years, as a proposal to codify Massachusetts as a sanctuary state has failed in the state legislature, along with an anti-sanctuary state bill similar to the present ballot proposal.
If the measure makes it onto the ballot and passes, Massachusetts would not be able to become a sanctuary state, as law enforcement would be legally permitted to comply with ICE agents. Before that happens, though, the proposal’s backers need to collect roughly 80,000 signatures in support of the initiative, the equivalent of 3 percent of turnout in the prior gubernatorial election.
The ballot question is a manner of bypassing the legislature to pass a bill. If the petition collects the initial signatures, the Massachusetts legislature would have the first opportunity to vote on the proposal. If the measure does not pass in the legislature—which it is not likely to do, given Democratic control—backers could then acquire 13,374 more signatures to place the question on the ballot, allowing voters to pass the law without the consent of the legislature.
Healey’s decision on the constitutionality of petitions is supposed to be an apolitical function—she has supported measures protecting undocumented immigrants in the past and been actively critical of President Donald Trump’s administration’s hardline stance on immigration. In regard to making Massachusetts a sanctuary state, Healey has stated her non-opposition while making clear that she believes the current system is working.
“I’m certainly not opposed to a statewide designation,” Healey said, per boston.com. “I’m just of the view that it is working well at the local level right now.”
The bill does have some support in the state government—Governor Charlie Baker led the charge for the near-identical 2017 bill that failed in the legislature and has said he believes making Massachusetts a sanctuary state would make communities less safe, as law enforcement currently cannot act to deport criminals without legal residence in the United States. Advocates for sanctuary policies take the opposite view.
“When local police collaborate with ICE, it erodes trust in the community,” said the American Civil Liberties Union in 2017. “When people believe that any interaction with a city agency—especially police—is likely get them deported, they will not seek help, they will not report crimes, and they will not cooperate with police in fighting crime.”
The proposal also comes amid related controversy as a Newton judge is facing obstruction charges for allegedly allowing an undocumented immigrant to leave the courthouse as ICE waited inside to arrest him.
Featured Image by Jonathan Ye / Heights Editor