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Immigration Enforcement Bill backers hope this year’s tweaks generate momentum

BOSTON – Supporters of a bill that would limit interactions between local law enforcement and federal immigration officials are hoping that changes to the legislation will help advance this year’s version.

The legislation (H 2418 / S 1579), dubbed the “Safe Communities Act” by supporters, restricts local and state law enforcement officials from asking about a person’s immigration status and limits their cooperation with federal immigration officials.

It’s a bill that has drawn fierce testimony over the years and stalled out in the Legislature multiple times. Filed by Rep. Ruth Balser, Rep. Liz Miranda, and Sen. Jamie Eldridge, the bill was heard by the Public Safety and Homeland Security Committee Wednesday and drew a lengthy list of speakers.

During the hearing, Eldridge said the proposal is a “commonsense bill that seeks to treat all immigrants and really all residents with dignity, provides clear bright lines for law enforcement, and improves public safety for all residents.”

“As it has become clear this year that the United States Congress and the Biden administration are not going to be successful in passing federal immigration reform, I hope it has become clear for Massachusetts state legislators that the time to act is now and we cannot wait any longer to pass legislation to protect our commonwealth’s most vulnerable immigrants,” the Acton Democrat said.

Rep. Ruth Balser (D-Newton) said Tuesday that she is optimistic supporters can secure passage of legislation limiting local and state police interaction with federal immigration enforcement after years without success. "This is the session we're going to get it done," she said. [Screenshot]

Supporters of the bill have found little success over the past two sessions.

The proposal remained in both branches’ Ways and Means committees as the 2019-2020 session ended, and in 2018, a Senate-backed budget amendment with similar language did not survive conference committee talks.

This time around, lead sponsors of the bill are hoping changes made in collaboration with local police chiefs will help propel the legislation forward. Middlesex District Attorney Marian Ryan said the legislation is “something we need for public safety.”