Welcoming Community Ordinance Introduced

Cambridge has been a sanctuary city for more than 20 years as a matter of policy, but there is more that we need to do to protect immigrants in our community. I worked with Councillor Carlone to introduce the Welcoming Community Ordinance that would make it the law, as it should be, for the Cambridge Police Department to serve the public without consideration of immigration status or citizenship. Several other municipalities have already passed similar language, and the ACLU joined us at a recent hearing in support of the ordinance as proposed.

Specifically, this ordinance would:

  • Prevent police officers and other city employees from inquiring about the immigration status of anyone with whom they have contact, except to provide a public benefit.
  • Officially end any role the police may currently play in immigration enforcement by preventing them from participating in federal immigration enforcement operations, or from initiating investigations of their own on the sole basis of actual or perceived immigration status.
  • Prevent police officers from arresting or detaining individuals solely on the basis of an ICE detainer or ICE administrative warrant, including extending the length of detention by any amount once an individual is released from local custody.
  • Prevent the Police Department from providing a federal officer with information related to a person in the custody of the Department, including their home or work address, unless otherwise required by law.
  • Codify a policy of issuing a court summons instead of making an arrest when a person is caught driving without a valid driver’s license, assuming there are no other violations causing the person to be arrested. Instead of impounding the vehicle, the driver would be provided with a reasonable opportunity to arrange for a properly licensed operator to drive the vehicle away.
  • Require the Police Department provide individuals in custody with any documentation related to their immigration case, including any immigration detainers or ICE administrative warrants they receive.
  • Prevent ICE agents from being allowed to access individuals in custody of the Police Department (either in-person or virtually) except in response to a judicial warrant or other court order.

This work is deeply personal to me. I am an immigrant and naturalized citizen who came to the United States when I was 15 years old to escape dictatorship and oppression in my home country of Suriname in South America. Soon after their arrival, my family was served a deportation notice, and it took them eight years to get their legal status. I was fortunate to have arrived ahead of them on a student visa and ended up getting a green card (permanent U.S. residency) separately, so I was a witness in the rest of my family’s court proceedings (I became a naturalized U.S. citizen in 1996). At the court hearing, I testified that my younger sisters would face immense difficulty if they were to be deported back to Suriname. The judge used my testimony to grant them permanent residency status, and then allowed my parents and brother to stay as well in the name of keeping the family together. It was an incredibly difficult situation but at least we were given due process and in the end my family was allowed to stay together and in the United States. 

The current administration’s war on immigrants is despicable. Keeping families together is no longer a priority and due process has been thrown out the window. Thousands of children are separated from their parents and kept in what are effectively concentration camps in which they are denied basic necessities like soap, and forced to sleep on concrete. HUD Secretary Ben Carson has proposed to evict mixed status families from public housing, a policy that would put up to 55,000 children who are legal US residents out on the street. Our country is deporting people into dangerous situations, like the diabetic man from Detroit who was recently deported to Iraq, a country he had never set foot in, where he soon died of a lack of access to insulin. It is time for Cambridge to step up in the face of this abhorrent abuse of power and do more to protect our immigrant community. We should stand with Somerville in building a protective legal wall to counteract this administration’s vicious attacks.

We held a committee hearing on this proposed ordinance a few weeks ago, but unfortunately the conversation was derailed by our City Solicitor who came unprepared to deliver a legal opinion on the ordinance despite having had nearly five months notice. I was ready to move the ordinance forward to the entire council for consideration, given that this language has already been reviewed by the ACLU and passed by several other municipalities. This conversation cannot drag on indefinitely with lives at stake, and I will do what I can to move this language forward before the end of the term. A benign interaction with the Cambridge Police or the court system should not be allowed to lead to deportation and separation for an immigrant family in Cambridge.