Basic rights addressed at second immigration forum

ACLU attorney and state representative discuss how to handle changing policies under a new administration.


Island communities like Martha’s Vineyard, which rely on international visitors, are losing millions in the current political climate. Under the Trump administration, international tourism has dropped by 12 to 14 percent, according to State Representative Dylan Fernandes. “So for the Vineyard and for Nantucket, which get $35 million a year from international tourists, that means millions of dollars lost for our local Islands,” Rep. Fernandes said.

The state legislator was speaking about recent anti-immigration policies and how they impact the local economies of the Cape and Islands at a community forum on immigration at the Martha’s Vineyard Hebrew Center Monday night.

About 25 people attended the event, hosted by the Martha’s Vineyard Social Justice Leadership Foundation and the Hebrew Center’s Social Action Committee. Along with the state representative, attorney Laura Rótolo of the Massachusetts American Civil Liberties Union presented on immigration rights. Gabriella Bonfim Moraes, a Cape Cod attorney, translated into Brazilian Portuguese.

The president’s “xenophobic rhetoric,” Mr. Fernandes said, has been a driving force behind the Safe Communities Act, a bill the state representative is co-sponsoring that looks to ensure state and local law enforcement won’t detain people based solely on their immigration status.

Ms. Rótolo, staff counsel and community advocate at the ACLU of Massachusetts, said that nationwide there have been 40 percent more immigration arrests than this time last year, and more than two times the amount of noncriminal arrests, meaning the arrests of people without a record.

She said the people at risk of being detained are those without legal status, a person with an order of removal, or green card holders who have certain crimes on their record. But the people most at risk are those who are arrested or come in contact with the criminal justice system.

People have constitutional rights regardless of immigration status, and Ms. Rótolo provided information on how to exercise one’s rights. She said if Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) comes to a person’s door, they must have a criminal warrant signed by a judge to enter.

“For what the police can do to you, for what the government can do to you, those rights apply equally to everyone,” Ms. Rótolo said.

She advised families come up with a plan to prepare themselves for the possibility of someone being detained or deported. Create “a family plan” — who will take care of the children, how bills can be paid, and how to access a person’s bank account.

Memorizing telephone numbers is important, as is signing a power of attorney to allow another person to act in one’s name. Although Ms. Rótolo acknowledged these were difficult discussions to have, having them ahead of time is critical to being prepared. “This is the time to have them,” she said.

The presentation concluded with how community members can stand up together and resist anti-immigration policies and rhetoric. Through the passage of local and statewide policies, communities can better protect immigrants and limit the interaction between local agencies and ICE.

All six Island towns have supported a nonbinding vote at their respective town meetings, urged by local community advocacy group We Stand Together, that calls on the town not to spend any money in support of federal immigration policies.

Martha’s Vineyard Community Services offers free meetings with an immigration attorney the first Friday of every month, from 9 am to 3 pm. Call 508-693-7900, ext. 400, for more information.