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Mass. AG Campbell discusses legal response to migrant influx, suit against neo-Nazi group, legislature audit debate

Andrea Joy Campbell.
Andrea Joy Campbell
Andrea Joy Campbell.

This week, Massachusetts Attorney General Andrea Joy Campbell unveiled her office’s new strategic plan. After breaking down the five-part undertaking that will unfold through 2027, WAMC asked the Democrat to weigh in on other political hot topics in Massachusetts. Campbell spoke with WAMC Berkshire Bureau Chief Josh Landes about her litigation against a Massachusetts neo-Nazi group, dissent among top Democrats over an effort to audit the legislature, and how the commonwealth will legally respond to an influx of migrants over the past year.

CAMPBELL: One thing I love about being the Attorney General of Massachusetts is that we have not only an incredible state, we have some of the most progressive laws in the country. We are the leader when it comes to our healthcare institutions, our higher ed institutions, we have an incredible philanthropic community, of course, community-based organizations, just so many riches. So naturally, people are going to come here for a better opportunity, and we have always been a commonwealth that has welcomed folks from different countries, going back to the foundation of the commonwealth- And I'm proud of that. And so now we have an opportunity to step up and to not only welcome migrants here, but to give them the support and resources they need and deserve. As we did for so many other generations of folks who have prospered here in Massachusetts, we're doing our part. One thing that we did early – I should say, last year – is put out a grant to legal aid organizations that are on the ground, providing technical assistance to migrants who are coming here, doing just amazing work to assist, including those seeking asylum and other things, pass the citizenship, making sure they had the resources that they needed. So proud of that grant, which was almost $800,000. We're also working, of course, with the administration and others when it comes to housing. So, we're doing our part and proud of that. And then lastly, I will say we worked with attorney generals across the country to push the Biden administration on the work permit authorizations, and making sure those were happening actually faster and lead the way on that. And then of course, the governor followed with a letter and others did as well. We've seen some changes there to allow these folks who are coming here to be able to access job opportunities, because folks want to work, and of course, then be able to move into a permanent home or some type of permanent housing structure. So, we'll keep working hard, aligned with the values of the great commonwealth that we are also blessed to live in.

WAMC: I wanted to ask you about your office's legal fight against National Socialist Club-131, a neo-Nazi group in the commonwealth. You talk about in the suit how that group has targeted newly arrived immigrants. Can you give us an update on that legal effort?

That is continuing to unfold. But it's a lawsuit that we filed, of course, against NSC-131, a neo-Nazi group – and this is how they describe themselves – who frankly, want a commonwealth that is only for a pure white person, right? And so, we're not going after them because of these beliefs. Instead, we’re going after them because of the conduct where they are going out and patrolling neighborhoods, causing serious disruption, and violating the civil rights of our residents, violating our public accommodation laws. You go into a library, for example, and you are blocked access because there they are protesting because they don't like who's inside of the library. So, we have made it crystal clear- We are not proud that this group was formed here in Massachusetts, but we have a role to play in holding them accountable for this conduct and this behavior. And we're not doing this alone. New Hampshire, which has a Republican attorney general I work closely with, he has also filed a complaint against this organization for similar conduct in New Hampshire. So, we believe in accountability, we also believe that people have the right to exercise their civil rights, and that this is not just about who they're targeting. This affects all of us, this hate that we're seeing, this white supremacy has a direct impact on every person in the commonwealth. And of course, we want to model a loving community in the commonwealth that protects the civil rights of everyone. So, we're going to continue to proceed with this case. And so more to come, we will keep folks updated along the way.

Democrats in Boston are feuding over an effort to audit the legislature by State Auditor Diana DiZoglio. You've weighed in to say that DiZoglio does not have the legal authority to undertake such an audit. Can you break down and explain exactly where you and your office fall on this issue?

I have made it clear that I believe in transparency. I come from the city council before joining, of course, this incredible AG office, and pushed for the expansion of public records laws and other ways to promote greater transparency. And I still believe in that. But my job also as a chief law enforcement officer of the commonwealth is to implement and enforce the laws as it currently exists. And we spent a lot of time not only engaging with the auditor, her directly and her team, but the Senate president and their team, as well as the House leadership in the Speaker and his team. And based on our thorough analysis, including reviewing all the materials that the auditor sent us, it was crystal clear that she does not currently have that authority to audit the legislature as she has described that she wants to do. There’s- Of course, there’s a separate ballot initiative. We approved that ballot initiative that she is also pursuing, and that's up to the voters. If it gets to stage, it will show up for them to vote on, and we’ll proceed from there. But currently my job is to enforce the law as it is, and we made it crystal clear in I think a letter that was very detailed as to why she does not currently have that authority, while at the same time, of course, continue to push for greater transparency.

This week, your office unveiled a new five-part strategic plan that will govern and shape the actions of your work through 2027. When are folks in the commonwealth going to start seeing the fruits of that labor on the ground?

I think folks already are. You know, if anything, strategic plan is already in motion, it has just taken some time for us to coordinate across all of our offices, not just our Boston office- Our Worcester office, our Springfield office, our New Bedford office, and all of our teams to put it on paper and to put it in a way that was digestible not just for lawyers, but for the average person, and I'm really proud of that. But we are taking on companies that are stealing money from our residents every day, we're actively in court prosecuting criminals for bringing violence and guns and drugs into our communities, we are out there training and doing Know Your Rights trainings, and of course, engaging with folks in Berkshire County and Western Mass. We're also putting out monies, including, as I mentioned, the maternal health grant and other grants that are going into community, including Western Mass. So, the work is ongoing. Now we're focused on our implementation plan, right? It's a strategic plan, and now we have to continue to implement it. And I just want to remind folks, we cannot do this work without them. So, if they're on social media to follow us at MassAGO, and if they're not on social media, to check out our website. We want to be accessible, we want to engage folks, and we need them to be a part of this work in order for it to be responsive to their needs.

Josh Landes has been WAMC's Berkshire Bureau Chief since February 2018, following stints at WBGO Newark and WFMU East Orange. A passionate advocate for Western Massachusetts, Landes was raised in Pittsfield and attended Hampshire College in Amherst, receiving his bachelor's in Ethnomusicology and Radio Production. His free time is spent with his cat Harry, experimental electronic music, and exploring the woods.
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