BOSTON — Immigration activists rallied on the State House steps Wednesday, demanding new legislation to stem the tide of deportations. But immigration officials say there’s nothing to stop — their deportation system is working well.
Irasema Zapata lives in Lawrence with her three U.S.-born kids. But she’s not a U.S. citizen; she’s a Guatemalan living in Massachusetts illegally. Through an interpreter, she told her story at the immigration rally.
“I have a deportation order. And, I don’t want to be separated from my family,” she said. “That is why I am here.”
Zapata joined some 50 other activists Wednesday to push for a new law called the TRUST Act (PDF), which would help limit deportations like her own.
Last year, Massachusetts had no choice but to join the federal immigration program called Secure Communities. That program takes fingerprints gathered by local police and matches them with the FBI and the Department of Homeland Security’s immigration database. The goal is to catch and deport dangerous criminals.
But some, like state Sen. Jamie Eldridge, a Democrat from Acton, say the federal government is going after the wrong people.
“The very immigrants that the federal policy was not supposed to target, in other words those with no criminal convictions, are the ones being deported,” Eldridge said. “And that’s making … the immigrant communities — both those who are here legally and those who are undocumented — feel very nervous about their general life.”
So Eldridge has introduced the TRUST Act. The bill would give local law enforcement the freedom to release immigrants held under the Secure Communities program for detention.
Statistics from the Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) agency show that more than half of all immigrants deported so far under this new Secure Communities mandate here in Massachusetts have no criminal record.
Despite that data, ICE says its system is working just fine.
“In order to be encountered by Secure Communities, you have to be arrested and charged with a crime,” said ICE spokesman Ross Feinstein. “What we’re doing is we’re prioritizing the removal of individuals. Obviously, the most important people we want to remove are convicted criminal aliens. But, we also have other priorities as well.”
Feinstein says those other priorities are people who have overstayed their visas or ignored previous deportation orders.
At least two other states — California and Connecticut — have introduced similar bills to limit deportations.
This post was updated with the All Things Considered feature version.