This May marked 30 years since I graduated from Salem State University. I fell in love with this city while I was in school, so I stayed here. I felt welcome and safe, and I loved raising my family here.
And I’m not the only one.
Over the past three decades, thousands of families have chosen Salem – our beautiful, historic, culturally rich city – to be their home. Increasingly, those families come from different countries and speak different languages.
An extraordinary new report, Changing Faces of Greater Boston, shows Salem is part of a regional transformation: From 1990 to 2017, the share of non-white residents in communities around Boston grew by 254%. In the same period, Greater Boston’s foreign-born population grew by almost 480,000.
The Salem I went to college in was 90% white and 91% native-born. Today, 28% of my constituents are people of color. One of every seven Salem residents are immigrants.
Today, largely due to the rhetoric and actions coming out of Washington, D.C., many of those constituents are living in real fear. We hear about it from teachers, social workers, health care providers, and advocates for domestic violence survivors. People are scared to call 911 in an emergency or to report crimes. They’re scared to go to the hospital or to visit their child’s school. They’re afraid to sign up for programs and benefits to which they’re entitled, that their property tax payments have funded, and which would strengthen the economic and social fabric of our community.
As mayor, I can’t accept this. My constituents – my neighbors – deserve better.
This is why I fought hard for Salem’s “Sanctuary for Peace” ordinance: first to pass it, then to defend it in a referendum. It sent a strong message that in Salem, we welcome everyone. We respect the humanity and the civil rights of all people and, though we’d never interfere with immigration enforcement, we refuse to be cogs in the deportation machine. And we certainly don’t think you need to “show your papers” to get your street swept or your trash picked up.
The natural next step is to pass the Safe Communities Act (H.3573 and S.1401), to extend these same basic protections for immigrants across our entire commonwealth.
The bill would ensure that police don’t ask people about their immigration status in routine interactions. Imagine reporting a break-in and, because your skin is brown or you speak with an accent, being asked what country you’re from. Would you feel safe and protected, or like an unwelcome alien? The Salem police don’t ask questions like that – but nobody should, anywhere in our commonwealth.
The Safe Communities Act would also end the practice by which local sheriffs are compelled to function as Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) deputies. And it would require that if an ICE agent comes to question someone at the police station or a local jail, the person be told they have the right to decline the interview and the right to call a lawyer. It’s troubling to know that, for a large percentage of our neighbors, that is not already the norm.
If you listen to the alarmists, you’ll hear dire warnings that the bill will let violent criminals run free. The opposite, in fact, is true.
Fear is a major obstacle to preventing crime. Because the Safe Communities Act would actually encourage more residents to report incidents and come forward as witnesses, this bill would actually help our police and work to reduce crime. And it would do this without compromising our police’s continued collaboration with federal law enforcement on any criminal investigations.
The safety and well-being of Salem residents is my top priority – all residents, no matter where they come from, what they look like, or what language they speak. At a time when fear has been weaponized for political gain, we need to do everything in our power to reassure our immigrant neighbors that in Massachusetts they are safe, they valued, and they are welcome.
The Safe Communities Act can’t make all the fear go away. But it’s a step in the right direction.
Kimberley Driscoll is the mayor of Salem.