Civil Rights 

These are the fundamental principles on which our commonwealth and our nation are founded. Our Declaration of Independence and our state and federal constitutions hold out the promise of equality and justice for all of us. Our history has been marked by the evolution of our understanding of what these principles mean in action, as applied to different groups and situations. As a student of constitutional law, I’m always trying to think ahead, to see where we haven’t caught up with our ideals, and where our laws should be heading next.

Better Protecting our Immigrant Community - an Update

At the start of this session, many people in Somerville asked me to co-sponsor the Safe Communities Act (H.3269 and S.1305) - which I had already done, just as I had co-sponsored its prior iteration as "The Trust Act." I testified in support of the Safe Communities Act at the bill's public hearing; communicated my support directly to Chairman Naughton and Speaker De Leo; and, with my colleagues in the House Progressive Caucus, prioritized H.3291, asking for a favorable report from the Committee on Public Safety.

 

Sadly, both the House and Senate Safe Communities bills were sent to study, rendering them effectively dead for this legislative session. A new bill has been late-filed to replace Safe Communities: HD.4603, "An Act relative to the Commonwealth's Obligation to Preserve Public Safety for all Massachusetts Residents" - the "COPPS Act". As you may have read in the press, the Massachusetts Police Chiefs Association has endorsed this new bill.

 

The COPPs Act, though, has its critics, as is not as protective of due process and equal protection of the law as the Safe Communities Act. Many grassroots immigrants' organizations and advocates, including ones based in Somerville, do not support the COPPS Act, which would relinquish some of the protections established by the Supreme Judicial Court in the case of Lunn v. Commonwealth. A few constituents have argued to me that the bill represents a reasonable compromise, but the great majority of constituents who have conveyed an opinion do not consider the trade-offs of the COPPS Act to be a net gain, and urged me not to co-sponsor the bill.

 

I continue to be interested in hearing from constituents, but must confess that the fate of the Safe Communities bills makes me wonder whether that there is enough political momentum to pass even the COPPs Act. The bill would need not just a simple majority vote, but a veto-proof margin, since signals indicate the unlikelihood of Governor Baker signing the bill. Baker's Secretary of Public Safety opposes the COPPs Act, saying that only Gov. Baker's bill to roll back Lunn is acceptable to the administration (that bill was also sent to study.)

 

I have been speaking with colleagues about passing, perhaps, the House bill to outlaw 287(g) agreements - by which local law enforcement officers act as ICE agents, at the expense of Massachusetts taxpayers. I am not finding a lot of appetite to do so - it's possible that many legislators, attacked by the Massachusetts Fiscal Alliance for supporting Safe Communities, and contemplating Gov. Baker's veto pen, see any new law protecting immigrants as an impossible goal this year. There is also, of course, the prospect that passage of any new law distancing state officials from ICE enforcement would be challenged by the US government in the federal court system, as with California: https://www.nytimes.com/2018/03/06/us/politics/justice-department-california-sanctuary-cities.html

 

Yet again, the best source of justice for immigrants in Massachusetts may well come again from our state court system, interpreting our state's constitution and laws:  

http://www.bostonglobe.com/metro/2018/03/15/ice-arrests-courthouses-are-disrupting-justice-two-lawsuits-claim/N7IhXiHlEuw3Qdz1XDlt4I/story.html

March 17, 2018

The Safe Communities Act - an Update

Many of you have written to me about the Safe Communities Act, typically urging me to support it. I am a co-sponsor of that bill, just as I was a co-sponsor of its predecessor bill, the Trust Act. I testified in support of this bill before the Public Safety Committee, just as I testified in support of earlier versions, in years past.

We'll get a better read on the fate on this bill, and others, with the coming of "Joint Rule 12 day," which this year will be February 7. Under legislative rules, by this date all bills are either to be reported out favorably; reported out "ought not to pass;" or sent to study - a kind of less-prejudicial death for a bill. A fourth possibility is that a Committee can ask for an "Extension Order," to allow for more time in which to deliberate, but these requests are rare.

In the time that I have been in the House, no bill which has offered any particular protection or benefit to immigrants has been adopted. The House, has, however, staved off the many bills and amendments filed every year to make the lives of immigrants more difficult. I find this state of affairs personally frustrating, but Massachusetts appears to be split between pro-immigrant areas - which tend to be urban - and communities which are downright hostile to immigrants.

The Boston area newspapers tend not to report on this tension, so most of you don't know that a number of my progressive legislative colleagues were recently targeted with mass mailings from a shadowy - but vocal - organization called the Massachusetts Fiscal Alliance. Mass Fiscal is an unscrupulous outfit which doesn't disclose its donors, appears to coordinate its activities with the state's Republican Party (or at least its Tea Party branch), and with radio talk show hosts, generating a deluge of hostile telephone calls whenever the legislature is poised to do anything even mildly supportive of our immigrant communities.

The press rarely reports about this organization, or its carefully planned attacks, so few members of the public are aware of the power it exerts in the debates about laws affecting immigrants. Mass Fiscal has also fought transgender legal equality, and other progressive initiatives. The organization probably views Somerville as a lost cause, but regularly makes large expenditures trying to bring down legislators in communities which are more split on progressive issues than Somerville has become.


While members of the legislature are regularly attacked for promoting pro-immigrant policies, our independent judiciary is not buffeted by such electoral considerations. The Supreme Judicial Court (SJC) last year handed down a decision in the case of Lunn v. Commonwealth which puts into place one of the chief protections embodied in the Safe Communities Act. In Lunn, the SJC ruled that no Massachusetts officer, police or otherwise, who has the power of arrest may take into custody any person based on an ICE detainer alone.

There are, of course, other protections that Safe Communities would offer beyond the holding of Lunn, which would be desirable to have. I will continue to promote and advocate for the bill to be adopted in its entirety. But be aware that our inclusive city is considered by most of my legislative colleagues to be a remote outlier, which does not reflect the commonwealth generally.

January 08, 2018

What you can do to support the Safe Communities Act

More Somerville constituents have contacted me about H.3269/S.1305, An Act to protect the civil rights and safety of all Massachusetts residents, AKA "The Safe Communities Act," than any other piece of pending legislation - it's a progressive priority not just for Somerville, but for the #Resistance writ large, you now have your chance to weigh in directly. On Friday, June 9th, the Joint Committee on Public Safety and Homeland Security is holding a public hearing solely devoted to this bill.

 

As you likely know, the bill is made up of two parts: 1) a prohibition on Massachusetts agencies or municipalities providing information for compiling a "Muslim Registry," as President Trump and Attorney General Jeff Sessions have called for; and 2) the bill formerly known as the TRUST Act, which limits police enforcement of ICE detainers to those for individuals who are wanted for criminal activity. Somerville  has long welconed immigrants and refugees, and a succession of Somerville police chiefs have supported our local "Trust Act" as a community policing policy which makes our city safer, by diminishing fears about interacting with local police.

 

The hearing will take place on Friday, June 9th from 10:00AM to 3:00PM in Hearing Rooms A-1 and A-2 at the Massachusetts State House. The high level of interest in this bill from throughout the state guarantees a long, packed hearing. While it's important that folks who can make it that day testify in person, written testimony submitted to the committee is also effective. Testimony should be send to Meghan.Kilcoyne@mahouse.gov at the Joint Committee on Public Safety and Homeland Security. 

May 31, 2017

Action to Prohibit Prison Labor on Mexican Border Wall

I voted on Wednesday, May 24th, along with a majority of Massachusetts House of Representatives members, to engross H.3034, An Act limiting the use of prison labor. This is the first legislation the Massachusetts legislature has passed in response to Trump administration policies; specifically, the wall to be built on the US/Mexico border. Sure, that border is far away - but here's the Massachusetts connection:

 

In January, 2017, Sheriff Thomas Hodgson offered to transport inmates from Bristol County, Massachusetts, to the southern US border, to build the proposed border wall. He claimed to be using California's wildfire suppression program as a model. But a closer look at CA reveals that, while it does train inmates as firefighters, its penal code expressly states that prisoners may not go within 25 miles of the CA border while suppressing fires. 

 

Hodgson also claimed that there was a precedent in the response of MA sheriff's departments after 9/11 and Hurricane Katrina. While several MA Sheriff's Departments did lend support to New York and New Orleans, it came in the form of volunteer employees of those Sheriffs' offices, not inmates. The idea of sending prisoners long distances to perform compulsory labor raises a dizzying array of practical, logistical, and security barriers - to say nothing of potential legal challenges, and their cost.

 

Not that the law, or the penalties for defying it, have ever been much of a deterrent for Sheriff Hodgson, who has forced the taxpayers of Massachusetts to pay millions of dollars for his antics at the edge of the law. Lawsuits against Hodgson include a 2002 case alleging his violation of the free speech rights of correctional officers - a case he took to the US Supreme Court (which declined to hear it), putting taxpayers on the line for Hodgson's legal costs, the plaintiffs' legal costs, and damages awarded to the plaintiffs, who prevailed all the way. Hodgson was also successfully sued for his policies of making inmates pay for their haircuts, and charging them $5 a day for the costs of their incarceration. (Sources: Associated Press; New Bedford Standard Times; South Coast Today website; MassCops website)

 

The vote on this bill was painfully partisan, with Republican members arguing that it was "unnecessary," and that the House was trying to solve a "problem that doesn't exist." The cumulative costs Hodgson has passed on to taxpayers is problematic enough - so much so, that a MassCops member posted on its website, in 2008, "Dear State. Please take over." I've argued against supplemental appropriations for the Bristol Co. Sheriff's Department for a while now - Hodgson is a rogue sheriff, who needs to be reined in, for the public good. 

May 31, 2017

More on the "Safe Communities Act," with a Bit of History

After sending out my March 2017, newsletter, I got some pushback about the "Safe Communities Act." One constituent wrote to say that, "the two issues in the "Safe communities act" are very different.  Compiling a Muslim registry would facilitate unconstitutional discrimination, if it wasn't in and of itself unconstitutional discrimination.  On the other hand, helping the ICE enforce immigration law is simply enforcing the constitutional laws that have been agreed on through the democratic process.  I'm not a big fan of nullification, of which this is a form, and it ultimately got us into big trouble the last time it became popular."

 

So many legal - and philosophical - issues are raised by this statement! 

 

While the two components the Safe Communities Act are different in a way, they both share the element of non-cooperation with federal law. The first part of the bill, concerning the "Muslim Registry," would prevent state agencies from providing the federal government with individual religious affiliation information kept in state databases. The second part would stop state or municipal law enforcement officials from acting as agents of ICE - a federal agency - for purposes of carrying out immigration detainers in the absence of convictions (or arrest warrants) for serious crimes.

 

Although I didn't entirely understand what was meant by the reference to "the last time nullification...became popular," I couldn't help but think of Chapter 489 of the Acts of 1855, "an Act to protect the Rights and Liberties of the People of the Commonwealth of Massachusetts." That legislation, among other things, provided that any "sheriff... or other officer of this commonwealth, or the police of any city or town...who shall hereafter arrest imprison or detain" anyone claimed to be a fugitive within the meaning of the federal Fugitive Slave Act of 1850, "shall be punished by a fine not less than one thousand, and not exceeding two thousand dollars, and by imprisonment in the State Prison for not less than one, nor more than two, years." (Section 15 of the Act - which I recommend reading in whole.)

 

I would point out that slavery, at that time, was not considered by the US Supreme to be "unconstitutional discrimination." It's also fair to say that the "Act respecting fugitives from justice and persons escaping from the service of their masters" (the so-called Fugitive Slave Act) was enacted by Congress in 1850 "through the democratic process." Yet slavery had been abolished in Massachusetts by a 1783 decision of its highest court, interpreting our state's own 1780 constitution.

 

There are many tensions, actual and potential, within our system of federal government. I'm especially grateful these days for our system of courts, our recourse to the Rule of Law. I'm also grateful to be a member of a state legislature which has, at times, proudly pushed the envelope - the 1855 "Act to protect the rights and Liberties...," for instance, was passed by both chambers over the veto of Governor Henry Gardner - a member of the nativist Know Nothing Party.

 

I hope that our legislature will be inclined to make history again, on the side of "rights and liberties."

April 04, 2017

House Business Undone: Standing Up for Immigrants and Refugees

I've heard more from constituents since the November election - and especially since the January Inaugural - than I normally do in an entire year. If you have contacted me, and not heard back, I apologize. You're not alone, but you're not unnoticed, either.

 

By far, the number one request I've had from you is that I support the Safe Communities Act. This bill would prevent our state from compiling - or helping the federal government - to compile any kind of "Muslim registry." It would also stop state and local law enforcement from acting as agents of federal Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE.)

 

For the record, I'm a co-sponsor of this bill, just as I was co-sponsor of its predecessor bill, the Trust Act. I have been among those in the House pressing for early adoption of this bill, and others I deem important to preserving civil liberties in our commonwealth. My take is that House leadership is not in general very keen on the Trust Act, and certainly not on taking action on it outside the usual committee hearing process.

 

But, as I pointed out in my last newsletter, there are many ways we can act locally to help our immigrant community in practical ways. The Welcome Project is gearing up for its annual YUM! A Taste of the Immigrant City fundraiser: http://www.welcomeproject.org/YUM Consider attending, sponsoring, or otherwise supporting this event - you can do so on line, or send a check to:

 

The Welcome Project

Re: YUM!

530 Mystic Ave, #111

Somerville, MA 02145

 

Besides the resources for immigrants - and others - listed in my last newsletter, here are more:

 

For ANY apparent civil rights violation, call ACLU at: 617-482-3170 X 100

 

Muslim Justice League, for community members approached by FBI or other federal law enforcement: 857-256-1310

 

[Boston] Mayor's Office for Immigrant Advancement Hot Line (need not live in Boston; calls are answered 24/7, and referrals made as appropriate):  617-635-2980.

March 14, 2017

How to Help Immigrants in Somerville

You can support the Welcome Project.

 

One thing the Welcome Project does is train volunteers to help native speakers of other languages learn English. SCALE  teaches volunteers how to lead small conversation groups that help learners hone their English language skills. This is a concrete way we can help our neighbors.

 

Some organizations will be organizing "Know Your Rights" sessions, and training folks to lead them.

 

Finally, please take note of Attorney General Maura Healey's hotline for reporting hate crimes: 1-800-994-3228. Let others know about it, and encourage reporting of violence or harassment. If you witness harassment, either intervene, or call 911.

January 04, 2017

Concern for those in our Immigrant Communities

It's no secret that our federal immigration law was already pretty dysfunctional. You may be aware that, even under President Obama, deportation numbers soared. In the Obama presidency, ICE officials rounded up over two and a half million people, and returned them to their home countries - including vast numbers who committed no crime.

 

I've heard from many of you that you'd like to see Massachusetts become a "sanctuary state," but this is an impossibility. No state can insulate its people from federal immigration law, because our US constitution gives that power exclusively to the federal government. Even if adopted as friendly rhetoric, the phrase "Sanctuary State" could only give false reassurance to individuals whom the state could not protect from federal law.

 

Massachusetts has, in its history, opposed unjust federal laws, and tried to shield its people from them. But even abolitionist Massachusetts could not, in 1854, stop federal marshals from sending the escaped slave Anthony Burns back to the south, in chains, under the auspices of the federal Fugitive Slave Act of 1850. Yet the civil unrest in Boston over that enforcement action required that federal troops be brought in, fueling the abolitionist movement nationally.

What we can most productively do now is similar to what has been most effective in the past. We should double down on supporting the organizations, schools, and faith communities which every day provide support, legal assistance, and other practical help to immigrants, and refugees. All of civil society can be part of such an effort - think Underground Railroad.

The historian Eugene Genovese, in his celebrated 1972 book "Roll, Jordan, Roll: The World the Slaves Made," observed that black slaves in the New World specialized not so much in "revolutionary defiance" - which would have invited swift reprisal - "but of a spiritual resistance that accepted the limits of the politically possible." I think that in these uncertain and menacing times, we need to be just as careful, and just as canny, in formulating the shape that our resistance should take.

January 04, 2017

Supporting People With Disabilities - and their Personal Care Attendants (PCAs)

Also in late September, I rallied outside the State House to protest the Baker administration's setting of a 40 hour a week maximum for the PCAs caring for people living with serious disabilities. Getting home care by PCAs allows many disabled and elderly people to live in their communities. The alternative of nursing home care is not only soul-deadening, but far more expensive to pay for. Along with a number of legislative colleagues, I'm continuing to push for reconsideration of this callous and short-sighted rule.

October 04, 2016

Transgender Anti-Discrimination Bill Becomes Law!!!

You've probably heard about the passage of this bill - which I filed in the House - by the House, on the first of June 2016. You may not have heard how strong the vote was. Only a dozen Democrats voted against the bill, and nine Republicans voted for it, yielding a veto-proof majority of 116 to 36.

 

Since the House bill differed slightly from the Senate version, the bills went to conference committee, which adjusted some of the effective dates for the bill. On a July 7 roll call, 11 Democrats voted against and 10 Republicans voted for the final passage of the bill. Gov. Baker signed the bill on July 8, which means that the bill is now law. For photos of the "People's Bill Signing," and other commentary, visit:

 

Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/Representative-Denise-Provost-155811771127401/ 

Twitter: https://twitter.com/DeniseProvost1

And my NEW Instagram: instagram.com/repprovost/

 

As well as coverage in local media outlets:

http://www.bostonherald.com/news/local_politics/2016/07/transgender_law_celebrated

 

While passage of this bill was a tremendous advance for civil rights in Massachusetts, it also represented for me a great victory for bipartisanship in our legislature. I started working across the aisle on this bill in 2014, the year before I filed it. The strength of bipartisan support for it is also a sign of health in our legislative process, and is an enormous source of satisfaction.

August 08, 2016

Memories of Little Rocks and Colored Water: Transgender Rights, and the Evolution of Civil Right

Here we are, in the middle of the struggle over Massachusetts' proposed legislation to assure that transgender people have equal, respectful, access to all places which admit the public. It's a struggle against the usual forces: inertia, timidity, misunderstanding, fear, and the loud opposition of those predicting the end of the world as we know it, if the legislature votes for social inclusion of those who have been relegated to the margins. It feels all too familiar.

 

I can remember being a little child, seeing the adults in my life gathered around the radio; speaking in low, anxious tones. I wondered, why are they so upset about a little rock? It turned out that the Little Rock was in Arkansas, and President Eisenhower was sending the US Army there, to "federalize" the Arkansas National Guard, which Gov. Faubus had called out to prevent nine students from attending high school. I was mystified - what was going on here? Why were soldiers needed to prevent, or allow, kids to go to school?

 

Then, the mills closed in our Maine town, and my family moved to Florida, where the mystery deepened. There were, for instance, two water fountains in the grocery store, and the sign on one read "colored water." Turning faucets and comparing streams, I couldn't figure out what color it was supposed to be, and asked my parents. Seemingly embarrassed, they told me it was water for colored people. I wanted to know, was it different water? No, my parents said, it was that some white people wouldn't want to drink out of the same fountain - but they could not or would not answer my most basic question, why?

 

As a school child in the South, I heard the ongoing arguments about school desegregation - despite Brown v. Board of Education having been decided some years before - and that controversy was just about schools - not movie theaters, beaches, restaurants, or hotels, or any other still-segregated facilities everywhere. Want to talk about bathrooms? Gas stations had them - for white people - otherwise, there was an outhouse around the back. Nobody I knew was even talking about the appalling not-built-to-hurricane-code shanties in "Colored Town" - next to the dump - with its dusty, half-paved roads. Nobody ever talked about the employment ads in the newspaper, neatly divided into "help wanted - white- male" and three other categories.

 

But somewhere, somebody must have been thinking and talking about these ugly injustices, because a few years later, a federal Civil Rights Act was proposed, and a Voting Rights Act to get rid of poll taxes, too. These kinds of changes were not welcomed by people in my neighborhood, or by the kids in my school. I remember being shown Confederate money - temporarily worthless, I was told, but the South would rise again - because it had to, to guarantee states' rights - the whole point of the Civil War, according to my informants.

 

The 1960s and 70s proceeded, marked by the Civil Rights movement, by a second wave Feminist movement, and by the first stirrings of a Gay Liberation movement. To my surprise, Dade County, Florida, in 1977 adopted a local ordinance banning discrimination in housing, employment, and public accommodations, based on sexual preference. This declaration of tolerance triggered a massive protest campaign, "Save Our Children, Inc." led by pop singer Anita Bryant (also spokeswoman for the Florida Citrus Growers Commission), who claimed that the ordinance interfered with her right to teach her children "Biblical morality."

 

"Save Our Children" managed to get the anti-discrimination ordinance on a referendum ballot, where it was, by a two-to-one vote, overturned. Having left Florida ten years previously, I was disgusted at a comfortable 1,500 mile distance. But I saw how the successful Florida campaign led to repeal of similar anti-discrimination ordinances in less obvious places: St. Paul, MN; Wichita, KN and Eugene, OR.

 

Setbacks seemed to be the tenor of the late 70s, 80s, and 90s. The Civil Rights movement often looked a lot like a Pyrrhic victory, and the push for Women's Rights seemed to have hit a glass ceiling. Gay Rights had made a little progress, with antidiscrimination laws enacted in some places, but largely stalled.  Often, protections extended to the "LGB" community, but left out the "T." In the early 2000s, when I was first serving in elected office in my city, having a governmental "liaison" to the Gay and Lesbian community (even if an unpaid volunteer) was a big deal, and a Domestic Partner Benefits ordinance was beyond the pale.

 

Then, in 2004, the MA Supreme Judicial Court affirmed equal access to the civil institution of marriage. I was privileged to be elected to the legislature in February 2006, during the ultimately successful fight to keep the question of marriage equality off the ballot (not that it ever should have been certified as a suitable ballot initiative - but that's another discussion.) This enormous victory in MA led a series of legislative actions and court decisions in other states, crowned by the US Supreme Court's decision last summer, with stops along the way to repeal "Don't Ask/Don't Tell" and DOMA.

 

None of this has occurred, however, without on-the-ground opposition, court challenges, and legislative counter efforts. The opposition in MA - to marriage equality, and to affirming the rights of transgender individuals - has been largely framed in terms of Anita Bryant-style rhetoric about religious belief and the protection of children.  The most conspicuously successful recent effort in the nation to eliminate protections for the rights of LGBT people was the passage, on March 23, 2016, in North Carolina, of House Bill 2:

 

http://www.latimes.com/nation/la-na-north-carolina-doj-20160505-story.html

 

What strikes me most about this standoff? It's that North Carolina's talking states' rights here - NC Governor Pat McCrory channeling the ghost of former Arkansas Governor Orval Faubus; 2016, meet 1957. I wonder if the boys in my old Florida neighborhood are still hanging on to their Confederate dollars.

 

In NC and other states, the conflict over the rights of sexual minorities is clearly headed to the courts for resolution. In MA, on April 29, 2016, the Joint Committee on the Judiciary favorably out two different bills to affirm inclusion of transgender individuals in the public realm, the House bill having been amended in committee. We have a governor playing cute, still unwilling to say if he will support any such bill coming to his desk. Our Senate is about to vote on one bill, confident that the votes are there; the House is still in play.

 

So, how will it be recorded on the books of history?

May 08, 2016

Fear of Refugees

These anxious times of ours are marked with eruptions of fear around every perceived threat, no matter how remote or tenuous. Not long ago, the fear of Ebola infection was so great that many Americans opposed entry to the US by anyone coming from the continent of Africa. Now shocking numbers of people - including Governor Baker and a majority of the U.S. House of Representatives - seem convinced that refugees from Syria pose a serious terrorist threat.

 

Congressman Seth Moulton pushed back early to Gov. Baker's statement that he was "not interested" in having Syrian refugees settle in Massachusetts. Although he's received less publicity for it, Congressman Mike Capuano has put forward a trenchant set of arguments why the refusal to admit Syrian refugees is foolish and irrational. There have also been refreshingly human views of the issue, for instance Kevin Cullen (12/1/15), recently in the Boston Globe.  

 

Although the state legislature plays no part in setting U.S. refugee resettlement policy, many of you have contacted me on this subject. Some have written just to complain about Gov. Baker's position. Be assured that I continue to speak out against xenophobia.

December 23, 2015

Fear of Immigrants

I recently had an opportunity to fight the ugly (dare I say trumped up?) bias against the foreign -born (and those assumed to be.) I testified against a bill that aims to disqualify from receiving state aid any community with a "sanctuary city" resolution - such as Somerville, which adopted one about 30 years ago. The bill, H.1856, is so poorly conceived and drafted that it equates such resolutions with failure to enforce federal immigration law.

 

Resolutions - at least at the local and state level - are statements of positions or sentiment, without legal effect. In the Massachusetts legislature, they are frequently invoked to congratulate; on the local level, resolutions often communicate more serious subject matter, such as support for a state action or policy outside of local jurisdiction. Somerville's "Sanctuary City" resolution, adopted during El Salvador's civil war, is a message of welcome, expressing an intent not to discriminate against immigrants and refugees in city services.

 

Neither state nor local action can prevent federal agencies from exercising their lawful authority. The federal Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE; formerly the Immigration and Naturalization Service, or INS) can and does conduct investigations and raids in Somerville, as they do everywhere else. The US constitution puts immigration and naturalization squarely under federal jurisdiction - which is why this nation waits for Congress to pass much-needed reforms in our immigration laws.

December 23, 2015

Fear of Transgender People

The general atmosphere of fearfulness has not been helpful to securing the full civil rights of transgender people. Like many others, I had hoped that the House would bring H.1577, which I filed in the House last January with Rep. Byron Rushing, forward for a vote this year. I'll continue to work hard for the bill's passage, but it's worth stating what the impediments are.

 

Gov. Baker's position presents difficulties. Since becoming governor, he has said he does not support the bill, and has suggested that he would veto it if it passed. The challenge of a potential veto means that it's important to have two thirds of House members - a veto-proof majority - vote "yes" when the bill is put before us. This overwhelming degree of support has proved hard to secure.

 

A majority of representatives do support this bill (H.1577), and many have been public and forthright in stating their belief that our laws should guarantee equality. Others keep raising hypothetical fears; and when their objections are satisfied, develop new concerns. I can point out that 18 other states - and 13 Massachusetts cities and towns - have adopted transgender anti-discrimination laws, and encountered no problems. I can point to the endorsement of this bill by Attorney general Maura Healey; by the statewide District Attorneys' Association, by the Police Chief's Association, but even the support of these public safety officials seems not to reassure those who believe that this civil rights law will somehow enable and protect sexual predators.

December 23, 2015

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