Mass. Won't Participate In Immigration Check Program

By Jess Bidgood

June 6, 2011

Protestors hold signs at a February demonstration against Secure Communities at the State House. (openmediaboston/Flickr)

BOSTON — Gov. Deval Patrick has decided not to have Massachussetts sign on to a nationwide program that allows local police to share information with federal immigration officials.

The Secure Communities program, which first began in 2008, allows the federal government to cross-check fingerprints of arrested individuals with federal immigration databases. But after participating in a pilot program in Boston, the Patrick Administration on Friday elected not to sign a memorandum of agreement to join the program on a more permanent basis.

The decision represents a change for the administration; in December, Patrick said Massachusetts would sign on to the program.

In a letter to federal Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE), Public Safety Secretary Mary Heffernan said the governor was committed to deporting illegal immigrants convicted of serious crimes, but that Secure Communities was too broad and could have adverse effects on immigrant communities and crime reporting in Massachusetts.

Although Secure Communities' stated objective is deporting serious criminals living illegally in the United States, Heffernan cited statistics showing only about  1 in 4 individuals deported under the Secure Communities pilot program were convicted of a serious crime, while more than half of the deported individuals were identified as non-criminal.

Heffernan said the administration is skeptical of the impact broad implementation of the program could have on the state.

"Through the community meetings we have held around the Commonwealth, residents have expressed concerns about racial profiling as a result of the program," Heffernan said. "Some in law enforcement fear the program is overly overbroad and may deter the reporting of criminal activity."

Supporters of the program say it allows the state to save money on incarcerating illegal immigrants while deporting dangerous criminals.

Immigrant advocacy groups have voiced strong opposition to Secure Communities, with some saying it increases the liklihood of racial profiling in police work. "This program counters decades of community policing and outreach efforts in places like Greater Boston by casting doubt on the intentions of the actions of local law enforcement in immigrant neighborhoods," said Patricia Montes of Centro Presente in a statement released after Patrick's announcement in December.

Massachusetts will join New York and Illinois in opting out of the program. The program is in effect in more than 1,000 jurisdictions, with the government planning to roll it out nationwide by 2013.  

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