BOSTON (AP) -- Immigrant advocates are pressing lawmakers to back legislation they say will help reduce the level of deportations in Massachusetts.
Several dozen activists rallied on the steps of the Statehouse on Wednesday in favor of the bill that would instruct local law enforcement agencies not to forward information to federal Immigration and Customs Enforcement officials on illegal immigrants who don't have serious criminal convictions.
Sen. James Eldridge, the bill's lead Senate sponsor, said the measure is a reaction to the federal Secure Communities program, which shares arrestee fingerprints with the FBI and the Department of Homeland Security.
Eldridge said most of those deported under the program from Massachusetts had no criminal convictions. He said lower level encounters with police, like traffic stops, shouldn't end up triggering deportations.
"The Secure Communities policy is supposed to be focused on violent and high level criminals," the Acton Democrat said. "That's not what's happening in Massachusetts."
The program went into effect in Massachusetts last year despite concerns raised by Gov. Deval Patrick and others.
Eldridge's bill seeks to prevent local law enforcement agencies from responding to requests from ICE officials to detain suspected illegal immigrants if the individual has been found not guilty, if charges have been dismissed or if they have been granted release pending trial.
The bill also instructs law enforcement agencies not to make inmates available to ICE for interviews unless they can have a lawyer present and are offered a consent form in a language they understand.
Inmates who are hospitalized or on suicide watch would also not be made available to ICE, and inmates could not be denied bail based solely on a written request issued by ICE under the bill. The legislation also states there is "no legal authority for law enforcement officials in the Commonwealth to enforce federal civil immigration laws."