To the editor:
As the year draws to a close, we are reminded that Massachusetts has yet to bring to the House and Senate floors and pass either the Safe Communities Act or the Driving Families Forward Act (the so-called safe driving bill), despite the fact that both bills were reported out of their respective committees favorably. Both bills will have significant positive impact for the residents, police and communities of Cape Ann.
The failure of the Legislature to act is especially noteworthy given the tremendous amounts of support for the Safe Communities Bill generated during the pandemic from the health care community of Massachusetts including: The Massachusetts chapter of the American Academy of Pediatrics, the Massachusetts chapter of the American College of Physicians, the Massachusetts Medical Association, the Massachusetts Public Health Association, the Massachusetts League of Community Health Centers, and Health Care for All.
They note most importantly that the necessity, without fear or anxiety for all persons including immigrants and their families to be able to access health care for any reason protects us all during these times of the pandemic and that persons who resist needed care of any kind because of fear of having U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement or others informed of their presence increases the risk for us all.
Among the specific assessments that have led these groups to support this measure are these (as stated in a Dec. 15 op-ed published by WBUR):
“Nobody should ever fear going to a doctor and receiving the care they need – especially in the middle of a pandemic. But for foreign-born patients . . . the unfounded fear that providers will share their personal information with Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) can outweigh the risk to them or their loved ones. The ongoing collaboration between local law enforcement and ICE fuels this perception.
“The Safe Communities Act (S.1401/H.3573) is a logical and necessary step toward ensuring that immigrant patients can confidently seek the health care services they need, particularly at a time when public health is threatened by the COVID-19 pandemic. . . .
“Immigrant communities have been hard hit by COVID-19. Hospitals including Massachusetts General Hospital have seen a dramatic surge in admissions of COVID-19 positive, limited English proficiency patients. Providing unfettered access to health care for these patients is critical to protecting overall public health. These communities disproportionately include low-income residents working essential jobs and living in multigenerational households.
“During the Trump administration, community health centers have seen an increasing number of immigrant patients disenrolling from health benefits for which they are eligible and delaying or avoiding care – all out of fear.
“This is not only harmful for these families but for the entire community. Cultivating trust in medical providers and public health officials protects us all, and is critical to fighting the pandemic. Especially as we prepare for the distribution of a vaccine, it is essential that take swift action to address these fears.”
We of Cape Ann Local Action, ECCO North (Essex County Community Organization), and the Gloucester Coalition for the Prevention of Domestic Abuse support the Safe Communities Act because this legislation would prohibit local police from doing ICE’s work; and is important for public safety, effective use of resources, safeguarding human rights, and creating a coherent statewide policy around law enforcement and access to health care.
It is essential to public safety and health for all residents of our state to feel comfortable reporting fires, crimes -- including domestic violence -- calling police or an ambulance, or accessing needed health care in a straight forward manner. Currently residents who are not citizens are often afraid to engage with the police or the courts at all. This has not only personal health and safety consequences for them, but it also leaves crimes unreported and unaddressed. All residents are endangered when victims and witnesses are afraid to come forward. On the other hand, policies that strengthen positive relationships with law enforcement make everyone safer. Police are free to do community policing, not act as ICE agents; similarly with accessing health care. Especially in these COVID-19 times we need all persons to achieve the care they need as quickly as possible so the entire community can remain healthy and safe.
Our local law enforcement agents have limited resources and should not be spending their time acting as federal immigration agents at Massachusetts' taxpayer expense. We need them to be free to keep our communities safe and to maintain good communication with all residents. Police chiefs across Massachusetts agree that local officers should not ask about immigration status. This legislation, which prohibits police from asking someone about their status, notifying ICE of a person’s arrest, and requires the police to inform a detained person of their right to not speak with ICE, helps accomplish this. .
We need a coherent, statewide policy: People don't spend their time in just one city or town. They may live in one town, work in another, help an elderly parent in a third. This is why we need a statewide policy to protect residents wherever they are rather than town by town patchwork regulation.
The Biden "Values Statement on Immigration" reflects similar goals. Why hasn’t our Massachusetts Legislature acted on behalf of creating safe communities? Please urge our state representatives to support these important health and safety measures.
Cape Ann Local Action
Sunny Robinson, RN
Coalition for the Prevention of Domestic Abuse