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After Tense Debate, Mass. Senate Adopts Safe Communities Amendment

After lengthy and emotional debate late Wednesday evening, the Massachusetts Senate adopted a budget amendment to restrict cooperation between local police and federal immigration authorities.

The amendment filed by Sen. Jamie Eldridge, which had been the subject of behind-the-scenes discussions all week, was approved on a 25-13 vote after 90 minutes of debate that stretched until 11 p.m.

Democratic Sens. Michael Brady, Anne Gobi, Marc Pacheco, Michael Rodrigues, Michael Rush and Walter Timilty joined the Senate's seven Republicans in opposition.

The amendment would prevent law enforcement from asking people about their immigration status, prohibit collaboration between Massachusetts law enforcement and U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement and would bar state resources from being used to create a registry based on ethnicity, religion, country of origin and other criteria.

"This would assure police and law enforcement refrain from inquiring about immigration status unless required by law. It would also require police to obtain consent before an interview with ICE and inform them of their right to deny an interview with ICE," Eldridge said. "It would also prohibit 287G agreements which deputize local authorities to enforce federal immigration law."

The amendment shared many similarities with the Safe Communities Act, legislation that Eldridge has promoted on Beacon Hill. In late April, House Speaker said he does not envision bringing the Safe Communities Act to the House floor for a vote this session because he said there was no consensus in the body.

"I feel badly for our body at this moment. We are being asked to vote on an amendment that won't be considered by the House, would be rejected by the governor and is not viable in this building," Senate Minority Leader Bruce Tarr said. "The amendment before us has internal contradictions, violates federal law, is not practical in terms of its application, and could have what I would hope would be the unintended consequence of prohibiting communication between law enforcement officials when it is in the interest of public safety. I am deeply disappointed."

Tarr and the Republican caucus proposed their own versions of Eldridge's amendment, but those amendments were voted down by the Senate.

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