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Gov. Baker, If You Met My Immigrant Patients, You'd Support 'Safe Communities Act'

Gov. Charlie Baker in January 2017 (Jesse Costa/WBUR)MoreCloseclosemore
Gov. Charlie Baker in January 2017 (Jesse Costa/WBUR)

Dear Gov. Charlie Baker,

You're on record opposing the Safe Communities Act, which you say would imperil public safety by making Massachusetts a "sanctuary state." My work as a primary doctor shows me daily that the opposite is true: When immigrants are afraid of the police, everyone is in more danger.

I know you do your best to reach out to communities across the state, but I wonder how many immigrants you speak with as governor. And I wish, just for a day, you could sit in my exam room with me and meet the people I meet, and listen as my patients on the exam table express their fear of you, of me, of the police.

Then, I think, you would understand better what it is like to feel completely alone in a strange country that has suddenly decided to blame its problems on you. You would know better what it is to be sick and afraid that you will be sent home to die. To be afraid to call the police when your husband is beating you. To be a child afraid your parents won’t be home when you get out of school at the end of the day.

Over the past few months working in Everett, where more than a third of the population was born in another country, I have met people who have been here for decades and suddenly feel unwelcome. I have met people recently arrived and fleeing violence, who are not given the luxury of feeling safe even here. I have felt my heart broken again and again by the fear that is spreading among my immigrant patients.

I spent one night calling every shelter in the state for a woman who said her boyfriend was raping her, but she was too afraid to seek police help because of her immigration status. She went back home that night.

Because Everett has not clarified how police will handle immigration status, I couldn’t tell her she would be safe if she called the police. I still fear for her.

I applauded a young man whose ankle was crushed by unsecured equipment at work for demanding the employer improve work conditions, and encouraged him to keep fighting his employer in spite of being threatened with deportation. It was important for him, I told him, and for the American-born and immigrant employees who continued to work there.

Another patient said she fled to the United States after her preteen son was threatened by drug dealers. When she arrived, the man who helped bring her here raped her and threatened to kill her if she told anyone.

In spite of a real fear of the police, she is working with them. I don’t know what’s going to happen to her.

A few days ago, a woman told me her landlord had kicked her out of her house in the middle of the night with her young daughters, and she had lost thousands of dollars in rent. She said she came here fleeing death threats and was afraid to call a lawyer while her family applies for asylum.

I know I don't have to tell you that unauthorized immigrants boost the economy. With our perennial budget deficit, it's important to remember that undocumented immigrants pay over $184 million in state and local taxes in Massachusetts, according to a recent report, and more than $11 billion in state and local taxes nationwide.

Numbers are important, but I'm sure you know them. I want to ask you for your help on behalf of my patients.

I don’t want to have to look up a woman's ZIP code before I tell her that the police will protect her.

I don’t want to have to call a dozen city halls before I encourage a young woman to report her alleged rapist.

I don’t want to have to tell a child’s family that they need to move and be careful which cities they travel to, lest the parents face deportation.

I don’t want unscrupulous employers, sexual predators and wife-beaters to act with impunity because they are preying on people we are failing to protect.

Many issues are better decided by cities, but not issues of human rights.

The Safe Communities Act currently sits in the Legislature's Joint Committee on Public Safety and Homeland Security and, with no immediate action pending, there is time for you to change your mind.

I know that it would not be easy to break, again, with your party on this. But you are, as you have said yourself, an “open-minded guy.” You have over and over demonstrated your willingness to do the right thing for Massachusetts, regardless of party politics. I am thankful for that, and hopeful that you will clarify for state police that their job is to fight crime, not lock up parents and battered women.

Elisabeth Poorman is a recent graduate of Cambridge Health Alliance and a primary care physician in Everett. She tweets at @DrPoorman.

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