The Legislature will hold a hearing Friday on a bill that critics contend would make Massachusetts a “sanctuary state” for illegal immigrants, a charge supporters reject.

The bill is co-sponsored by 49 legislators including three who represent the area: state Rep. Jim Hawkins, D-Attleboro, and state Sens. Paul Feeney, D-Foxboro and Becca Rausch, D-Needham.

Lawmakers deny the bill will create a “sanctuary state” and say it would more clearly separate the work of local police from that of federal immigration authorities.

The bill will go before the Joint Committee on Public Safety and Homeland Security.

The proposal reads, in part: “No officer or employee of a law enforcement agency, while acting under color of law, shall question persons, including victims and witnesses of crimes, about their immigration status unless state or federal law requires the inquiry, provided that judges and magistrates may make such inquiries as are necessary to adjudicate matters within their jurisdictions.”

Hawkins said Tuesday that city and town police departments have “scarce resources” and immigration work should be the responsibility of federal authorities, not local police.

He said the bill would not make Massachusetts a sanctuary state, explaining that “sanctuary” means protecting immigrants who have committed crimes. The bill is about victims and witnesses of crimes.

Rausch said the bill deals with civil matters and does not inhibit authorities from dealing with people who have violated criminal laws.

But, that is not how critics see it.

In a letter to The Sun Chronicle, Lorraine Nye of Rehoboth said the political elite are jeopardizing the safety of the public.

“This move comes at a time when so many are working hard to curb the influx of drugs not only into our country, but our state as well,” she wrote. “Why bring this burden to our state?

“Just look at places where sanctuary states and cities exist. Crime is exploding ... in New York, Baltimore, Chicago, San Francisco, Los Angles and others.”

Barnstable County Commissioner Ronald Beaty has written letters to several Massachusetts newspaper opposing the measure.

He also said it threatens public safety and is unfair to legal immigrants.

Feeney could not be reached for comment, but the matter became an issue during his election campaign two years ago.

At that time, he said local police would still communicate with immigration officials.

He also said having local police ask victims and witnesses about their immigration status would discourage them from coming forward with information about crimes.

Jim Hand may be reached at 508-236-0399 or jhand@thesunchronicle.com.

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