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City Council Approves Ordinance Advising Police to Summons Unlicensed Drivers

A biker rides through Harvard Square in the bike lane on Massachusetts Avenue.
A biker rides through Harvard Square in the bike lane on Massachusetts Avenue. By Quinn G. Perini
By Maria G. Gonzalez, Crimson Staff Writer

The Cambridge City Council recently approved a measure that advises police not to arrest unlicensed drivers in Cambridge in an effort to protect undocumented immigrants.

The new policy is part of the city’s “Welcoming Community” ordinance, a measure that aims to solidify Cambridge’s status as a sanctuary city. The purpose of the ordinance is to “increase public confidence in Cambridge’s government by providing guidelines” for the city’s involvement in federal immigration enforcement — and to “declare that all are welcome here,” according to a policy order.

The ordinance, which passed with seven affirmatives and one “present” vote during the Council’s Feb. 10 meeting, encourages Cambridge Police to issue court summonses to unlicensed drivers if those drivers have not committed other violations which might warrant an arrest.

Undocumented and unlicensed drivers face often risks of detention and deportation when they are arrested. According to the ordinance, this occurs because police enter fingerprints of suspects into databases used by United States Immigration and Customs Enforcement. The new law, however, aims to protect undocumented immigrants by discouraging police officers from taking unlicensed drivers into custody.

Although police have informally practiced this procedure in Cambridge in the past, the council — whose members have previously criticized federal immigration policies — wanted to enact an official ordinance to protect undocumented immigrants from federal immigration enforcement.

Under the new law, officers also will give unlicensed drivers the opportunity to arrange for a licensed driver to drive the vehicle away before authorities impound it.

Councilor Quinton Y. Zondervan wrote in an email to The Crimson Tuesday that the official ordinance was necessary to “communicate to our immigrant community that our police are not deputized agents of ICE” and “make it clear that we want this policy to continue.”

Organizations supporting the ordinance include the Brazilian Worker Center, the Welcome Project, and the Massachusetts branch of the American Civil Liberties Union. On their website, the Massachusetts ACLU encourages cities and towns to pass policies that support immigrants and prevent deportation.

“Cities and towns cannot legally be forced to use their own resources to assist in the enforcement of immigration laws,” the website reads. “They can, however, create policies that send a clear message: immigrants are welcome here and they should not fear their local government.”

Zondervan wrote that he hopes to see more cities adopt similar policies in the future.

“As long as the federal government insists on waging war on immigrants, we at the local and state level have to step up our efforts to keep our communities safe,” he wrote.

“That means making it clear to our immigrant community members that they can safely reach out to the police when they need help or see someone in trouble, without fearing that they will be deported,” he added.

—Staff writer Maria G. Gonzalez can be reached at maria.gonzalez@thecrimson.com. Follow her on Twitter @mariaagrace1.

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Cambridge City CouncilCambridgeMetro NewsMetroImmigration