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Lawrence Mayor Daniel Rivera says he will not veto a plan to limit police cooperation with federal immigration officials. But he says he does not support the legislation.
The measure, known as the Trust Act, forbids Lawrence police from holding anyone who is living in the U.S. illegally on behalf of the federal government, unless the government can provide a criminal warrant.
Rivera said the measure, which was approved in a 7-2 vote by Lawrence City Council earlier this week, rests on a faulty premise.
"So if you're undocumented, and you live in Lawrence and you do nothing wrong, the police in Lawrence are not after you to deport you. And that's what the presumption is of this act, and that's just not the case," he said in a phone interview Thursday.
Rivera said the ordinance seems to be more of a symbolic gesture, but says he doesn't want to prolong the process of passing the bill with a veto, which would essentially also be seen as symbolic. The measure has enough support in the City Council to override a veto.
"This is something that, even though it passed, I don't see it's going to have big impact in our community at all," he said. "Even some of the speakers the other night said, 'We're already doing the things that are asked for in the ordinance,' because we just don't see ourselves as part of the immigration-deportation process, unless, of course, you're a criminal."
Rivera says he is more concerned about moving forward with initiatives to build trust with with the immigrant community in Lawrence — such as assuring immigrants they can report crimes to police regardless of their immigration status and implementing a complaint process for reporting police misconduct.
But immigration advocates say that the measure is more than symbolic, because the fear of deportation can silence immigrant communities.
"They are very much afraid, and we need to give them assurance," said Ana Javier, with the Merrimack Valley Project, a community organization. "They need to feel comfortable with the police department. They need to gain trust in them, because in the past, it has been abused."
Javier also said Thursday that by codifying what Rivera says are the police's informal practices into law, it holds police accountable.
"There's always the chance of some police officers not being just about every situation or every case," Javier said. "There's a lot of discrimination going on, and we just want to be on the safe side and make it known these practices are not going to happen in our community."
Patricia Montes with Centro Presente, an Latin-American immigrant advocacy group, says that other aspects of local police's cooperation with federal immigration enforcement will continue under the Trust Act. For example, when someone is arrested by local police and their fingerprints are scanned, those prints will still go to the FBI and Immigration and Customs Enforcement.
Lawrence will become the fifth city in the state to pass such legislation, following the implementation of similar laws in Somerville, Cambridge, Boston and Northampton.
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