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Not Following Rules: Cities and States Refuse to Enforce Federal Immigration Regulations

“We’re not just going to sit and wait. We’re going to make our local communities safe.”

Photo Credit: Ryan Rodrick Beiler /


Seven months ago, Santos Gutierrez and Victoriano Aguilar were driving to a store in Springfield, Mass, when they were pulled over by police.

“My husband and I have always liked to help other people and support when we are able,” Gutierrez said. “And so on the day that my husband was stopped, we were helping a neighbor who didn’t have a car go to the store and buy diapers.”

The police officer walked up to the car, but Aguilar, an undocumented immigrant, did not have a driver’s license. At the time, Gutierrez didn’t know that local law enforcement and U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) worked together through a program called Secure Communities.

As a result, Aguilar was arrested and detained for five months at a county correctional center, where a judge overturned the traffic violations and ruled the stop was motivated by racial profiling. But after being released from the center, he was then turned over to ICE and has been jailed for the past two months awaiting deportation. ICE has rejected all of Gutierrez’s attempts to release Aguilar, who is her partner of 19 years and the father of their three children. He’s now in Louisiana in a slow-motion transit to Guatemala, the country they both left to come to the U.S. more than two decades ago.

The Massachusetts governor’s office arranged for Gutierrez and their 14-year-old daughter to see Aguilar for the first time in seven months — and possibly for the last time in this country.

“He is very sad,” Gutierrez said. “He’s lost hope, and he’s lost faith.”

While Gutierrez and her daughters are devastated, Gutierrez said she’s going to keep struggling for change, despite feeling disillusioned.

“I’m going to keep fighting because I don’t want to give up,” she said. “I don’t want my daughters to be here without their father. I don’t want my husband to have to risk his life another time crossing the border. I don’t want to take my daughters to Guatemala and have them miss out on all the opportunities they have.”

Gutierrez is now a member of Just Communities, an immigrant justice organization in Massachusetts that’s fighting to pass the Trust Act in the state. The Act, which has already passed in Connecticut, California and Colorado, specifies that local and state law enforcement won’t comply with immigration detainer requests, with certain exceptions. The main objective is to reduce deportations of those who are non-violent and have no serious criminal offenses—people like Aguilar.

While proponents of Secure Communities, piloted by President George W. Bush and expanded nationwide by Obama, claim the program only deports violent offenders, immigrant rights organizers like Gutierrez know this is not always the case.

“He isn’t a criminal,” she said. “He’s not a dangerous man. He’s a wonderful father.”

Aguilar is not alone. One thousand people have been deported in Massachusetts since the program went into full effect two years ago. More than 50 percent of those deported had no criminal record, Bliss Requa-Trautz, an organizer with Just Communities said. Another 17 percent, she said, had minor offenses, such as traffic violations. Nationally, one-fourth of those deported under Secure Communities had no criminal record. One-fifth had committed serious offenses, while the rest were lower-level offenses. In other words, the program is a dragnet trapping far more people than intended. 

Passing the Trust Act in Massachusetts would stop these deportations of non-violent, undocumented immigrants, Requa-Trautz said. This is mainly because law enforcement, though still obligated to share fingerprint data with ICE, won’t be required to arrest and detain undocumented immigrants until ICE decides their fate. People like Aguilar would not be thrown into a prison system with no way out. The Trust Act has already proven to be successful in California. Deportations through the Secure Communities program there have plummeted by around 44 percent after the Trust Act was enacted in the beginning of the year.

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