Island chiefs support immigration warrant article

Police and We Stand Together group meet to hash out ‘miscommunication.’

Over 300 people packed the Hebrew Center in February for a conversation on Community issues, facilitated by We Stand Together. — Stacey Rupolo

Like a sun-splashed spring day, the air is a lot clearer between police and a group proposing an Island-wide ballot question on how local law enforcement handles immigration issues.

In an hour-long meeting held Tuesday, the Island’s six police chiefs met with representatives of We Stand Together/Estamos Todos Juntos MV (WST/ETJ) about a petitioned article that will go before all Martha’s Vineyard town meetings, beginning Tuesday.

The question asks voters “to request the selectmen to authorize law enforcement and all town officials to refrain from using town funds and/or resources to enforce federal immigration laws, in keeping with current practices, unless presented with a criminal warrant or other evidence of probable cause as required by the Fourth Amendment of the United States Constitution …”

Spurred by some of the rhetoric out of Washington, D.C., about undocumented immigrants, the Vineyard group is seeking to ease the fears of people who come to the Island seeking work and aren’t in the country legally.

The warrant article caused confusion among law enforcement on the Island, who wondered aloud about the need for the town meeting action.

At Tuesday’s meeting, confirmed by three police chiefs and a member of the WST/ETJ group, the air was cleared.

“There was a lot of miscommunication and things that needed clarification,” Edgartown Police Chief David Rossi said Wednesday. “They’re asking us to do what we already do.”

That sentiment was echoed by other chiefs who attended.

“There’s a lot of rhetoric out there, but we’re not going to become agents of the federal government,” Oak Bluffs Police Chief Erik Blake said Wednesday. “We’re not changing how we do business, so there shouldn’t be any fear.”

West Tisbury Chief Daniel Rossi said consensus was reached that what is being asked in the article “complements what we do on a regular basis.” The chiefs are working on a statement that will be read at town meetings. The wording was not available by press time, but essentially it will remind voters that the article simply “affirms” how the Island’s police departments operate.

The only time an undocumented immigrant is detained is if the federal Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) has issued a warrant. It would be the sheriff who would handle anyone with a warrant, Chief Blake said.

Irene Bright-Dumm, a WST/ETJ organizer, said the group was added to a regularly scheduled meeting of the chiefs at the request of West Tisbury selectman Richard Knabel. The group had met with the chiefs in January, but a lot happened in the the interim, she said.

“We were really appreciative they took the time to meet, and it was a productive dialogue,” Ms. Bright-Dumm said. “Both sides were really listening to each other.”