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Revised Boston Trust Act amendments submitted to Boston City Council


City ordinance delineates the work of local law enforcement officials in relation to federal immigration enforcement

Mayor Martin J. Walsh and Councilor Josh Zakim today submitted a new draft of amendments to the "Boston Trust Act," a City ordinance that delineates the work of local law enforcement officials in relation to federal immigration enforcement. Originally passed unanimously by the City Council and signed into law by Mayor Walsh in 2014, the proposed amendments further clarify the role of Boston Police officers, prohibiting them from acting as federal immigration officers or sharing information with U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE).

"In Boston, we have always been committed -- and will continue to be committed -- to keeping families together and providing them with opportunities so they can fully live their lives," said Mayor Walsh and Councilor Zakim. "We have collaborated with the community, immigration advocates, and the Boston Police Department to update Boston's Trust Act in a way that will clarify even further the role of our police officers, while keeping everyone's safety at the forefront as our collective goal. Our law enforcement will not be enforcing a federal immigration policy that is flawed and cruel in nature. We urge the Council to take this ordinance for a vote this Wednesday, allowing the Police Department to swiftly train officers on these new requirements." 

The Trust Act as amended would prohibit Boston Police from acting as federal immigration officers or sharing information with ICE. The updated ordinance distinguishes the ICE Enforcement and Removal Operations division (ERO) from its Homeland Security Investigations division (ICE-HSI). While the Boston Police Department would not be able to work with ICE-HSI solely for civil immigration enforcement purposes, work would continue on matters of significant public safety importance such as combatting human trafficking, child exploitation, drug and weapons trafficking, and cybercrimes. Under the updated ordinance, the Boston Police Department would train all officers on new requirements. 

The updated ordinance furthers its original intent of ensuring immigrant integration and advancement by reassuring Bostonians that they can trust Boston Police to be focused on public safety, not civil immigration enforcement. The original ordinance stated that local authorities shall not detain someone solely on civil immigration detainer requests or administrative warrants, and shall not transfer someone to immigration authorities unless ordered by judicial authorities.A civil immigration detainer request is a request by federal immigration officers to local law enforcement officials to maintain custody of someone and advise federal officials prior to their release. 

Since the signing of the Boston Trust Act in 2014, the Boston Police Department has submitted a report to the City Clerk annually with the number of civil immigration detainer requests received; the number of individuals that City law enforcement officials detained; the number of individuals transferred to Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) custody; and the total cost reimbursements received from the federal government. With the updated version submitted today, any arrests made related to criminal re-entry, detected during an unrelated Boston Police activity, will be included in the report as well. 

Reports from the Boston Police Department show that in 2017 and 2018, ICE lodged 68 and 107 civil immigration detainer requests respectively, which all were given access to bail by BPD and were not transferred to ICE custody. Those that did not post bail were transported to the court for arraignment, moving out of BPD's authority. The updated ordinance keeps requiring the department to report this information, including the reasons for civil immigration detainer requests.

The Boston Trust Act preceded the Lunn v. Commonwealth case where the Supreme Judicial Court ruled that Massachusetts and its municipalities do not have the authority under state law to honor civil immigration detainer requests. The updated Boston Trust Act maintains its main clause: local law enforcement shall not detain a person solely on the basis of a civil immigration detainer request issued by a federal immigration officer, or an administrative warrant issued by a federal immigration officer.

The Boston Trust Act reaffirms that local law enforcement officials enforce state laws and local ordinances. Further clarifying their roles with federal immigration laws, the updated Boston Trust Act directs that City and department personnel and funds shall not be used to interrogate, detain, or arrest persons solely for immigration enforcement purposes, which are federal responsibilities, including:

  • Inquiring of an individual's immigration status;

  • Detaining someone solely on the basis of a civil immigration detainer request;

  • Providing personal information regarding a person's release date to ICE solely for the purpose of enforcing civil violations of U.S. immigration laws;

  • Making arrests on the basis of ICE administrative warrants, and;

  • Performing the functions of an immigration officer.

The updated ordinance builds on Boston's immigrant advancement work and its efforts to mitigate the impact of federal immigration restrictions on the City's immigrants. Since the start of the Trump Administration's implementation of an immigration restrictionist agenda, Mayor Walsh has been opposed to proposed changes to the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) program, the termination of Temporary Protected Status (TPS) for individuals from multiple countries, the proposed redefinition of "public charge," and HUD's proposed rule to expel from public housing mixed-status families paying prorated rent.

Launched in 2017, the City partnered with private donors and philanthropic foundations to form the Greater Boston Immigrant Defense Fund, which strives to increase education and access to legal services to defend its many immigrant communities, refugees, and temporary status holders. Over the past two years, the Fund has raised over $1.11 million, which has allowed nonprofits to create new positions for six immigration attorneys and eight community advocates. The fund has increased the region's capacity to serve immigrants, and as a result, 363 legal cases have been opened and nearly 54,000 people have attended 796 community education events. In its third year, the fund has raised $515,900, including $50,000 in City funds

For more information on Boston's immigration work, please visit

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