Somerville Mayor Joseph Curtatone is causing controversy, having signed an executive order that will prevent Somerville police officers from holding undocumented immigrants for federal agents to pick up simply for alleged immigration violations.

Curtatone joined Boston Public Radio by phone to explain what this will mean for Somerville, and if other cities are about to follow his lead.

Margery Eagan: So tell us Mayor Curtatone, why are you doing this?

Curtatone: We’re doing it because we want to protect families in Somerville and enhance public safety.

Eagan: And how does this enhance public safety?

Curtatone: We’re all safer when we’re able to engage everyone in the community, when people cooperate with us on cases, bring information to us, help us solve issues of public health. What has occurred, especially since the passage of the Secure Communities Act, is that immigrants in our community — and a third of our population is foreign born — are more reluctant to cooperate on investigations even when they’re the victim of a crime. It has pushed people into the shadows, into the corners, and we’re just not a better or safer city because of that.

Jim Braude: Let’s go back to the beginning — tell us briefly, what exactly will your executive order accomplish and how does it relate to Secure Communities?

Curtatone: If the Secure Communities program allows U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement and local law enforcement to hold arrested immigrants, for up to 48 hours after the person has been ordered to be released by the courts, it actually in essence what it is doing is it treats every person indiscriminately the same regardless of their history save for their immigration status in a system in a broken system that everyone knows is broken. This executive order places trust back into local law enforcement officials and returns to them the discretion of how best to protect people in the city. We’ll no longer just blindly hold people because of their immigration status.

Braude: The data suggests that roughly half of the people who have been deported as a result of Secure Communities since 2008 in this state have no criminal record. On this victim issue, an organization called Federation for American Immigration is quoted in today’s paper as saying that the idea that victims… will be too afraid to speak up in fear of being deported… just doesn’t happen, that cops don’t ask that question. What evidence do you have, Mayor Curtatone, that you’re right and this federation is wrong?

Curtatone: We’re right because we see it firsthand. Our police chief testified today. One case of a person being picked up because of immigration status seems tremendous, [it sends] negative reverberations across the entire community— people just back away. We’ve seen it here in well-publicized cases, we had one in August that made news around the state and the country. Victims in those cases were really reluctant to work with us because someone in their family was undocumented.

Eagan: What case was that?

Curtatone: The case of the soccer team and the rape case. What’s more typical here is a motor vehicle stop, where [a person’s] name pops up in the system and there’s a blind hold on the warrant management system in the Immigration team, and it might have just been because of a broken taillight. That information spreads widely and has an incredibly negative impact on our ability to engage with every member of our population but especially our immigrant community.

Eagan: Mayor Curtatone, the classic cases I’ve heard are different from that: it’s that if a boyfriend or husband is abusing his girlfriend or wife and the wife is here illegally, she’s not going to report him.

Curtatone: That happens as well. The bottom line is that the Secure Communities Act has not made our community any safer. Somerville has seen a 30 percent reduction in crime since 2008 and it’s mostly because we’ve invested in our quality of life, public health and public education programs. The immigration system today has made a set of laws and rules without any order. Well-intended, and we’re still going to be working with federal officials by the way, consequences have been that people with no criminal records are being separated from their families, children are becoming parentless and are being broken away from their homes, destroying the family unit and we believe we have a moral obligation to protect that.

Eagan: Speaking of that, and we’re talking with Mayor Curtatone, Sheriff Thomas Hodgson from Bristol County is an outspoken critic on softening any laws that allow illegal immigration. He says what you’re doing is taking the handcuffs off the criminals and putting them on law enforcement.

Curtatone: Sheriff Hodgson is in the business of locking people up and I think his comments are absurd. We’re in the policy of dealing with issues before they become crimes. I find that offensive, to say that people will go to a community because they want to commit crimes. These are people [immigrants] who are going to work, who are contributing to society [and] their kids go to school with our kids.

Eagan: Do you see this as a sort of wave of the future? Nationally, Republicans are very worried about their stance on immigration because they’re not getting the voters from the Latino community, which is huge, but do you see yourself as part of the crest of the wave [on this issue]?

Curtatone: I don’t know. I would hope that Somerville is a progressive community and this is surely in our value set. We’ve always been a city of hope for everybody including my parents, who emigrated from Italy. I talked about this with my mom and I know my late father would have said the same thing…my mother said this to me, and this is a woman who got married in Italy and had to come to America without her husband for a couple years because the system didn’t work for them, and she said, ‘Why should it be harder for anybody else? If people want to be part of this city and this country they should be able to come here and contribute.’ And that struck a value chord with me as well. Personally I feel a deep conviction about this. I hope other communities in this state and country follow our lead. Massachusetts should really be at the forefront of this. We’re the most progressive state in the United States and we’ve led the way on marriage equality, we’ve led the way on healthcare. Surely we should lead the way here on passing the Trust Act.