Blocking Safe Communities Act would drive up state and local costs
IN DECEMBER, when you open your mailbox, you’re used to the usual flow of holiday cards from relatives and old friends, as well as end-of-year fundraising solicitations. However, residents of towns from Pittsfield to Hull recently got something else: an incendiary mailer attacking select legislators for their support of the Safe Communities Act and warning of the flood of “illegal immigrants” into their cities and towns. And they weren’t talking about Santa Claus and his elves.
That would have, at least, been closer to the truth.
The source of these mailers was the Massachusetts Fiscal Alliance, an organization sometimes quoted as a nonpartisan source of “fiscally responsible” expertise in the press, perhaps best known as a thorn in the side of the state’s Democratic Legislature on budgetary affairs. As a supporter of robust public goods, I’m used to disagreeing with Mass Fiscal when it comes to how much we should be investing in our schools, our roads, our public transit, our health care infrastructure, etc. It isn’t that often that I see Mass Fiscal arguing for greater city and state spending, but that’s exactly what’s happening here.
Why? Because the Safe Communities Act ensures that state and local budgets are not hijacked by a federal immigration agenda from Donald Trump. It prohibits the use of state databases or records for enforcement of any federal registry based on religion or other protected characteristics. It prevents state and local law enforcement agencies from arresting or detaining a person solely for federal immigration enforcement purposes or participating in raids on such grounds. And it prohibits collaboration agreements between the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) and Massachusetts law enforcement agencies that deputize state and local officers as immigration agents, work they are not being reimbursed to do.
What was especially concerning was that, in justifying its “call to action,” Mass Fiscal Alliance cited statistics from the Federation of American Immigration Reform. The organization, which goes by the ironic acronym FAIR, has been designated a hate group by the Southern Poverty Law Center for its ties to white supremacist groups and eugenicists. Indeed, its founder has expressed a desire for the US to remain a majority-white population, viewing immigration restrictions as essential to meeting that goal. There’s an old adage that you are what you eat. In academia and politics, you are what you cite. And if you’re citing a hate group, well, you might want to look in the mirror.
Mass Fiscal Alliance and other opponents of the Safe Communities Act want you to think that immigrants are a drain on the Massachusetts economy. To the contrary, Massachusetts’s economy depends on immigrants, both documented and undocumented. Our state is home to more than 1.1 million immigrants, who are home health aides, scientists, hotel workers, entrepreneurs, and everything in between. According to a recent report from MIT, Massachusetts depends on foreign-born immigration for our thriving economy. As MIT management professor Paul Osterman said clearly, “Increased restrictions are a threat to our prosperity. Indeed, the economy would be strengthened if immigration increased from its present level.”
This economic boon isn’t just by way of employment. Undocumented immigrants in Massachusetts contribute hundreds of millions of dollars in taxes each year, and are putting billions of dollars back into our economy. One-third of the undocumented population has been here for 10 years or longer. In other words, they’re well-integrated, contributing members of our community.
The Safe Communities Act isn’t just about economics. At its core, it’s about just what its name implies: making us all safer. Spending money on federal immigration enforcement also diverts money from local and state law enforcement’s ability to do the job that they are being asked to do. And research has shown that jurisdictions that limit collaboration with federal immigration agents have lower crime rates than those that do not. If individuals are afraid that reporting crime to the police could lead to deportation of themselves or their loved ones, then they are not going to do so. Victims of domestic violence are especially at risk, as reporting of domestic violence has fallen since Trump’s election amidst such fears.
Mass Fiscal Alliance and other opponents of the Safe Communities Act are saying that we should spend more money to be less safe. If that isn’t the height of fiscal irresponsibility, then I don’t know what is.
Jonathan Cohn is an editor and activist in Boston and the co-chair of the issues committee at Progressive Massachusetts.