Barnstable County’s detention agreement with the Dept. of Homeland Security’s Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) arm won’t expire. It’s in place permanently until either ICE or Barnstable Sheriff James Cummings takes steps to terminate it.
That’s true even though during the 2020 presidential campaign, candidate Joe Biden pledged to end all 287(g) agreements. The Biden administration has yet to take action on that pledge.
But state advocates and legislators are taking the case against 287(g)s into their own hands. Two bills on Beacon Hill this session attempt to address the three 287(g) agreements in the state. Two are with Barnstable and Plymouth counties; one is with the Mass. Dept. of Corrections. There are no other 287(g) agreements in New England.
A 287(g) contract allows local law enforcement to receive training from ICE and then enforce federal immigration law in their community, in many cases effectively beginning the deportation process for ICE.
While advocates for the 287(g)s say they reduce the number of criminals at large, those opposed question the reasoning behind the agreements. Between October 2009 and February 2020, more than half of the foreign nationals deported from Massachusetts had no criminal conviction, according to data compiled by the Transactional Records Access Clearinghouse at Syracuse University.
One bill on Beacon Hill, the Safe Communities Act, “would ban those agreements outright,” said Amy Grunder, director of legislative affairs for the Mass. Immigration and Refugee Advocacy (MIRA) Coalition. The bill doesn’t change anything about policing, she said, it just stops “those extra things” local law enforcement does for ICE.
The second bill would end the use of state and local money for 287(g) agreements, “which means, basically, that they go away,” said Grunder. That’s because the 287(g) statute prohibits the use of federal money. Per the agreement, Barnstable County covers any costs associated with processing or holding inmates, or carrying out any of the other duties folded within the 287(g).
Although the Safe Communities Act has repeatedly died in the state legislature and been refiled the following year, “every time it fares better,” said Grunder. “Generally, what we’ve been told is that it takes 8 to 10 years for a bill to get passed.”
Many of the 287(g) contracts have been around for a long time, Grunder said. The focus of the Trump administration on immigration meant that more people paid attention to the work of immigration advocates than had paid attention during Democratic administrations. That meant that, over the last few sessions, the bill got further along each time. It helped when the Mass. Medical Society, along with some other organizations, endorsed the bill.
The Safe Communities Act gathered extra support when it was identified by the Mass. Progressive Caucus as one of the four pieces of priority legislation for this year.
The caucus wants Massachusetts to be a “welcoming state” for immigrants, said caucus chair Rep. Tricia Farley-Bouvier. Although the bill was nominated by caucus members as one that’s progressive and has a shot at passing, some members are concerned that it’s politically fraught, said Rep. Farley-Bouvier. “The issue is politics,” she said.
The next step for the bill is for it to be “referred out,” meaning it goes to the House Ways and Means Committee, said Grunder. From there, it will go to the floor for a vote only if it’s expected to pass. “We’re trying to get our numbers up” to the necessary 107,” said Grunder, and “we’re cautiously optimistic — it does seem that there’s openness to the bill on behalf of the legislature.”
Rep. Sarah Peake of Provincetown, a member of the House speaker’s leadership team, did not return calls asking whether she will support the bill.
Tom Ryan is chair of the Migrant and Refugee Committee of the Cape Cod Council of Churches, which brings together three key groups concerned with immigration rights: lawyers, advocates, and leaders of the immigrant communities themselves.
Ryan said he understands politics can lead to change. But he’s more interested in the way morality works. “The spirit of justice has everything to do with equity and is bound up with morality,” Ryan said. “Justice is that right-ordering of human relations.”