Massachusetts may bar its county corrections officers from spending state dollars to enforce federal immigration laws. The proposal is a direct assault on plans from a Southeast Mass. county sheriff and comes as Beacon Hill Democrats search for ways to repudiate President Trump's immigration policies.
New Bedford Democratic Rep. Antonio Cabral wants to stop any county sheriff's department employees from enforcing U.S. immigration law unless the costs are paid in full by federal authorities.
"These are federal programs. These are federal priorities. We ought not to be spending state dollars to carry out and administer those programs," Cabral said at a Monday hearing of the Legislature's Judiciary Committee.
Another Cabral bill would prevent prisoners from laboring outside the state.
Both proposals are intended to put the brakes on Bristol County Sheriff Thomas Hodgson who in January said he would offer the labor of prisoners in his facilities to assist in construction of President Trump's proposed wall along the Mexican border.
Hodgson testified against Cabral's bills, saying they would stop sheriffs from bringing millions in federal funding into the state and harm the ability of local authorities to alert immigration officials about immigrants wanted for crimes.
"This is cutting to the core of our obligation both as legislators and sheriffs in the Commonwealth and across this country that we need to use every resource available to us to make sure that somebody we know is a threat to our community does not get out," Hodgson said.
The bills have a strong chance to pass the Legislature, with support from Senate President Stan Rosenberg and key members of the House.
At the hearing, Senate Judiciary chairman Sen. William Brownsberger read a letter from Rosenberg stating the Senate President "supports the purpose" of the bill to bar county enforcement of federal immigration laws.
"We have a lot of work here. Our budget situation is precarious so I don't want to spend any state money doing things like building walls or participating in any activities we don't have to participate in," Rosenberg told reporters after meeting with Gov. Charlie Baker and DeLeo.
DeLeo said he would check in with House Judiciary chair Rep. Claire Cronin about the hearing and go from there.
"There's going to be some room for discussion for that legislation," DeLeo said.
On the issue of moving prisoners out of state to work on infrastructure projects, Baker said "there's plenty of stuff to do around here in Massachusetts."
Baker went on to say that it's important to support the ability of local law enforcement to take part in some immigration enforcement when it comes to dangerous suspects.
"I do believe it's important for us, and when I say us I mean law enforcement at the state, local level including the sheriffs to do what we can to get violent dangerous criminals off our street. And I don't think frankly that there's disagreement around that question when it comes to detainers and to [Immigration and Customs Enforcement,]" Baker said.