Respect Equality

A Massachusetts city is changing its law on undocumented immigrants and driving

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Story at a glance

  • The Cambridge City Council passed an ordinance that advises police not to arrest undocumented immigrants driving without a license.
  • Instead, officers will issue a summons to court to avoid ICE detection.
  • The law was passed to reduce participation with federal immigration policy.

A new law passed Monday by the City on Cambridge in Massachusetts advises police not to arrest undocumented immigrants driving without a license. 

The ordinance, which will be added to the Cambridge Municipal Code, will encourage police to summons unlicensed drivers instead of arresting them. It’s part of an effort to better protect undocumented immigrants from the federal government. Cambridge announced it is a sanctuary city in 2017. 

The law is formally entitled “Welcoming Community Ordinance,” and was passed unanimously, according to Boston25 News. The procedure had informally been in practice already, but city leaders felt compelled to officially legislate it, Boston25 News further reports.

The ordinance states that the purpose of the bill is “to establish the City of Cambridge as a Welcoming City, to declare that all are welcome here, and to increase public confidence in the City of Cambridge’s government by establishing standards associated with the CIty’s voluntary involvement in federal immigration enforcement.”

City Councilor Quinton Zondervan told Boston25 News that the newly passed ordinance is meant “to protect our community members from a federal government that’s out of control,” referring to the current administration’s immigration tactics and policies. 

“There are no other reasons for the police to arrest someone, give them a court summons instead which keeps them out of the clutches of the Trump administration,” Zondervan said.

The ordinance states that it isn’t within the purview of Cambridge to enforce federal immigration law upon Cambridge city residents over civil immigration issues, such as detaining or deporting undocumented residents. 

The bill also states, however, that the city will continue to enforce the law. The difference is that an undocumented immigrant won’t be threatened with deportation. 

Per the statute, “when taking action against a person who is found to be driving without a valid driver’s license…the Cambridge Police Department shall, whenever possible…if there are no other violations causing the person to be arrested, issue a summons to court instead of taking the person into custody.” 

From there, provided no criminal charges are issued, the officer will work toward helping the driver obtain a valid driver’s license. 

Immigration and Custom’s Enforcement (ICE) officials will also be prohibited from accessing individuals in the Cambridge Police Department under the new law. This new rule comes as ICE agents are increasingly under fire for waiting outside of courthouses to detain undocumented immigrants appearing in court

The new law explicitly states, however, that “Nothing in this ordinance shall be construed to violate any valid federal law, or to prohibit any Cambridge agency or department from providing another law enforcement agency citizenship, or information status, consistent with 8 U.S.C. § 1373.” 

This clause highlights that the Cambridge Police Department will comply with federal human trafficking operations, as well as comply with ICE administrative, U.S. judicial warrants, or court orders if served. 

Federal authorities will also still be entitled to access to a person’s immigration or citizenship status. They will not have other personal information, though, like hearing dates or home addresses. 

Until then, however, the Cambridge police will not probe for information about a person’s immigration status.  

Zondervan elaborated on his stance to Cambridge Today, addressing the potential clash of state and federal law.

“I don’t know which federal or state laws would require this, but at the current moment our federal government is putting people in cages and torturing them and allowing them to suffer and some cases die,” he said.