AMESBURY — During an appearance on Local Pulse over the weekend, Mayor Ken Gray discussed his support of a proposed referendum for the 2020 election that would prevent Massachusetts from becoming a sanctuary state, saying he feels the decision should be left up to voters.

Gray is one of several officials in the state who expressed support for the proposal. If approved by voters, it allows state and local police to detain certain people based on requests from U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement if an administrative warrant is issued and there is probable cause to suspect the individual is “a threat to public safety” and living in the U.S. illegally.

State agencies with police powers would be required to adopt written procedures for detaining suspects sought by federal immigration authorities, according to the proposal. Any detention in excess of 12 hours would be subject to judicial review. 

On the Local Pulse internet radio show Saturday, Gray said he supported the ballot measure because it is ultimately “aimed at keeping criminals off the street” and does not target people based solely on their immigration status.

“I’ve read the ordinances for sanctuary cities in Lawrence and Salem, and they’re not very different than what this does,” Gray told show host Joe DiBiase. “Those cities will cooperate with law enforcement to remove criminals from their cities because nobody wants criminals in their cities, and that’s really the focus of it.”

Gray said he thinks voters in Massachusetts should make the decision.

“If people get down and read what the proposals are, it’s certainly worth the people voting on it before we go and declare ourselves one way or the other,” he said.

In a phone interview with The Daily News on Monday, Gray said the proposal “really deals with terrorists, gang members and convicted criminals, and it’s not designed to detain anyone who is here without documentation.”

“In Amesbury, we never ask about someone’s immigration status,” Gray added.

The proposed ballot question was one of 16 submitted to Attorney General Maura Healey’s Office for consideration last week. If Healey certifies the question, supporters must gather the signatures of 80,239 registered voters — the first of several hurdles to make the 2020 ballot. 

During the extended Local Pulse segment, Gray also discussed local lawmakers’ efforts to raise awareness about combined sewage overflows — or CSOs — during which area sewage treatment plants routinely dump millions of gallons of raw sewage into the Merrimack River after storms. 

Gray said that while there isn’t a plan to solve the Merrimack Valley’s CSO issues, he and other local and state officials — including Newburyport Mayor Donna Holaday, state Rep. Jim Kelcourse, R-Amesbury, and state Sen. Diana Dizoglio, D-Methuen —  are working to raise awareness about CSOs, hoping to put pressure on other elected officials to take action.

“In the meantime, awareness is the biggest part of it. We can let people know what the danger levels are in the river,” Gray said, noting that Amesbury, Newburyport and Salisbury officials hope to fund a program to test the Merrimack’s water after CSOs to gauge pollution levels. 

“People recreate there ... they just don’t know,” Gray said, adding that there are “several bills going through the Legislature right now” to implement notification systems when there are CSO releases.

Gray also briefly discussed the Atlantic Sports Center, a 410,000-square-foot ice hockey complex planned for South Hunt Road that he said is “down to the last regulatory steps” before construction can begin.

While the project’s start has been delayed, Gray said an announcement about a groundbreaking for the complex in late September will be made “in the next few weeks.”

In the meantime, he said “a lot of activity is taking place, and there will be a lot of updates over the next 30 days” from the project’s developers. 

Staff writer Jack Shea can be reached via email at or by phone at 978-961-3154. Follow him on Twitter @iamjackshea.