Last Wednesday, members of Harvard Law School’s Immigration Project announced a legal opinion supporting the Trust Act—a piece of legislation that prevents U.S. Immigration Customs and Enforcement from ordering local and state law enforcement to apply federal immigration policy.
The opinion drafted by the Harvard Immigration Project was signed by 33 legal scholars, including 13 Harvard Law School professors and at least one expert from each of Massachusetts’s other law schools, according to the Massachusetts Trust Act Coalition’s press release.
The Trust Act currently sits in committee at the Massachusetts State House.
“It's perfectly legal for police to focus on fighting crime instead of taking on the financial and other responsibilities of federal immigration policies,” Law School professor Deborah E. Anker said in the release. “Doing otherwise would undermine community policing and prevent local law enforcement authorities from setting their own priorities."
The current practice can prevent those in immigrant families from reporting crimes and taking advantage of police resources out of fear of being deported, according to Eva L. Bitran, a third year at the Law School and the president of the Harvard Immigration Project.
“[It] really erodes immigrant communities’ trust in community policing,” she said.
After the announcement, Law School students and other advocates went to the State House and delivered the opinion to the chairmen of the Joint Committee on Public Safety and Homeland Security and the Judiciary Committee, where the Act is currently under consideration.
“That’s the big push—to get it voted out of committee,” said Lillian S. Axelrod, a second year at the Law School who helped kickstart the project this summer while she worked at the Harvard Immigration and Refugee Clinic, which Anker directs.
“This type of advocacy tool has been used in the past….I think the legislature takes what the legal scholars in the state say rather seriously,” said Philip L. Torrey, who serves as the supervising attorney for the Harvard Immigration Project in addition to serving as a lecturer on law at the Harvard Immigration Clinic.
The Act must be voted out of committee by the end of March to be considered and voted on by the state legislature.
“We feel really good about its chances of coming out of committee,” Bitran said. “We have some strong allies in the state Senate and the House.”
Previously, the Harvard Immigration Project primarily focused on legal services, such as assisting immigrants in obtaining green cards and being released from immigration detention on bond.
As co-president, Bitran added a policy advocacy committee, which she currently chairs, to the Project.
“We really wanted to get involved in Massachusetts community projects,” Bitran said. “We are better able to leverage our privilege and make our voices heard in our own community.”
The group hopes to keep activism a part of its mission.
“Hopefully we will continue to do more community policy advocacy work,” Torrey said. “It does have a pretty strong influence.”
—Staff writer Tyler S. Olkowski can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter @OlkowskiTyler.