Category Archives: Press (Massachusetts)

Editorial: Security isn’t easy to deliver (Milford Daily News)

Editorial: Security isn’t easy to deliver
The MetroWest Daily News
Posted May 23, 2012 @ 09:07 AM

The much-debated Secure Communities project took effect in Massachusetts last week. So, is everyone feeling more secure? Probably not.

Under Secure Communities all arrests made by local police departments will result in fingerprints being sent automatically to Homeland Security (home of Immigration and Customs Enforcement, or ICE) as well as the FBI. Local police have long been required to share prints with the FBI, and for years have had the option of sending them to ICE as well. Now the sharing is automatic.

The hope is that this information from local law enforcement will help ICE differentiate immigration violators who are dangerous criminals from those whose only crimes are immigration-related and who don’t pose a threat to public safety.

That was the Secure Communities promise from the start. The program lost credibility when turned out it had resulted in the detention of thousands of non-criminal offenders.

The Obama administration has sought to solve that problem while finding some way to cope with the backlog of deportation cases clogging immigration courts. Despite setting new records for the number of deportations completed, thousands of suspects are being held for long periods in federal detention facilities, often without due process rights and at great taxpayer expense.

This gusher of new ICE referrals under Secure Communities won’t solve those problems. Instead, we fear it will be like trying to fill a water glass from a fire hydrant.

Local officials can’t do much to resolve problems at Homeland Security, but they can prevent misinformation about Secure Communities from poisoning communications between police and immigrants in their towns.

An unfortunate byproduct of the debate over Secure Communities is the widespread fear that the program involves a crackdown by police on immigrants who are not involved in other crimes. MetroWest police chiefs say the program will change nothing about how they do their work. There will be no profiling, they say, and no efforts to do background checks on people who report crimes, use emergency services or seek medical help.

Area police chiefs are bringing that message to immigrant communities, but they need help in passing it on. However you feel about Secure Communities, nobody is helped by driving a wedge between local police and the residents they are sworn to protect.

Fingerprint rule shakes Conn. city (Boston Globe)

Fingerprint rule shakes Conn. city
Immigrants in East Haven view new policy as a threat

By Maria Sacchetti
February 24, 2012

Photo by Steve Miller for The Boston Globe

EAST HAVEN, Conn. – Federal immigration officials activated the controversial crime-fighting program known as Secure Communities across Connecticut this week, stunning this city just weeks after the FBI arrested four police officers on charges of harassing immigrants and Latinos.

Marcia Chacón, owner of My Country Store, lost business as immigrants fearful of police stayed away. She said police were “supposed to protect us, but’’ instead, “They kept us in terror.’’

The launch marked the second New England state to fully deploy the program since it started in 2008 and signaled to the remaining states, including Massachusetts, that the federal government is plowing ahead with the initiative in spite of resistance. The program automatically checks the fingerprints of everyone arrested by state and local police against immigration databases to ensure that they are in the country legally.

Like Governor Deval Patrick, Governor Dannel Malloy of Connecticut last year sought to delay Secure Communities on concerns that the program – designed primarily to catch and deport criminals – is also deporting high numbers of immigrants who have not been convicted of any crime.

Federal officials activated the program with little public notice, illustrating how quickly the landscape can change.

Few communities were more caught off guard than East Haven, a working city of 29,000 on the Quinnipiac River in southern Connecticut. In December, the Justice Department accused East Haven police of engaging in systemic harassment of Latinos and immigrants. After the four officers were arrested last month, the police chief resigned and the mayor outraged residents by saying he might have “tacos’’ to reach out to the community.

Jorge Zuñiga, a 36-year old construction worker from Ecuador, said the new program would immediately raise fears of retaliation.

“It’s not fair,’’ said Zuñiga. “What are the people going to think? They’re going to think that they wanted to do this to us.’’

Secure Communities, which allows immigration officials to automatically check the fingerprints that police routinely send to the FBI for criminal checks, is in 45 states nationwide, including Rhode Island.

In Massachusetts, only Boston participates in the program after helping to pilot it in 2006, but officials at US Immigration and Customs Enforcement – known as ICE – say the program will be nationwide by the end of 2013. The program also went statewide in Maryland and New Jersey this week.

Federal officials say the goal is to find and deport serious criminals and flagrant violators of federal immigration law, such as those who return to the country after being deported. ICE spokesman Ross Feinstein said the vast majority of the 169,329 immigrants deported since 2008 fell into those categories.

“Secure Communities has demonstrated its effectiveness in transforming immigration enforcement to a focus on criminal offenders,’’ he said in a statement.

But in Boston and elsewhere, critics say Secure Communities is ensnaring immigrants stopped for minor traffic violations and never convicted of any crime.

Federal statistics as of Jan. 31 show that only half of the 446 immigrants arrested by Boston police and deported since 2008 had been convicted of a crime, a figure much lower than the national average of about 74 percent.

Advocates for immigrants also highlight another concern, that the program makes domestic violence victims and others afraid to report crime for fear of being deported.

“We are worried,’’ said Eva Millona, executive director of the Massachusetts Immigrant and Refugee Advocacy Coalition. “I’m most worried that the program has flaws and that the flaws are not being addressed.’’

In East Haven, residents from the deputy police chief to Latino store owners were caught off guard by the launch of Secure Communities. Immigrants who had been painting homemade signs in the back of Los Amigos Grocery for a demonstration tomorrow rushed to Hartford to urge the governor to halt the program.

“It’s not within our power to stop it,’’ said Mike Lawlor, Malloy’s top criminal justice adviser. Lawlor said Connecticut will decide on a case-by-case basis whether to detain an immigrant at ICE’s request.

Others praised the program this week for rooting out dangerous criminals – including more than 45,000 serious offenders such as rapists and murderers – and finding people who do not have legal authorization to live in the United States.

“It’s nothing to do with discrimination,’’ said Lou Ferraro, 62, in front of a local coffee shop on Main Street. “You should do it anyway.’’

Along a weathered stretch of Main Street this week, immigrants and shop owners said they were skeptical. For years, they said, police stationed cruisers outside their businesses, driving away customers. According to a federal indictment of four police officers last month, some officers beat Latinos or falsely arrested them, and harassed customers and store owners alike. The four officers have pleaded not guilty.

The 50-member police force has only one Spanish-speaking officer, though the Latino community has risen from 4 percent to 10 percent since 2000. About 9 percent of the residents are immigrants.

Marcia Chacón, an owner of My Country Store and an immigrant from Ecuador, said her family came to East Haven for the affordable homes and the small-town feel. But as immigrants fled, her business struggled. She lost two rental properties to foreclosures.

“The police are supposed to protect us, but it wasn’t that way. They kept us in terror,’’ she said.

Herman Zuñiga, a community leader and a carpenter who had been an elementary school teacher in his native Ecuador, said immigrants have helped revitalize this fading city.

“We are taxpayers either way,’’ said Zuñiga, who has one child in college and another on the way. “We purchase car insurance. We buy groceries. Don’t forget that.’’

Deputy Police Chief John Mannion said the department is taking a “very hard look at ourselves’’ and working to improve relations with the community. Asked about racial profiling, Mannion said, “That’s not going to happen.’’

“This is just a computer system that makes it easier for ICE,’’ he said.

For illegal immigrants such as Carlos, a 32-year-old construction worker from Ecuador who declined to give his last name, the new system raises the likelihood that a police stop could lead to his deportation.

“What can I do?’’ Carlos said with a shrug as he walked to his girlfriend’s car, got behind the wheel, and drove away.

Trust and Translation: Community Policing in New Bedford, MA (Audio)

The fishing industry in New Bedford has always attracted sailors and workers from Europe, West Africa and beyond.  The city is home to one of the largest Portuguese communities in the United States. But in recent years, more and more Spanish speakers are arriving from Central America. Will Coley reports on how New Bedford’s police are trying to adapt to the change.

Menino threatens to quit plan targeting crime by immigrants (Boston Globe)

Menino threatens to quit plan targeting crime by immigrants
By Martine Powers and Stewart Bishop
Photo by Aram Boghosian for The Boston Globe

Globe Correspondents / July 11, 2011

In an abrupt turnaround, Mayor Thomas M. Menino has said he will withdraw Boston police from the federal Secure Communities program unless US federal immigration officials limit their deportation efforts to only those immigrants who have committed serious crimes.

In a letter to be delivered today to the Department of Homeland Security’s Secure Communities task force, Menino said the program, which requires that fingerprints from arrests be cross-referenced with federal immigration databases, has caused a breakdown of relations between residents and law enforcement officials in Boston’s immigrant communities. The cross-referencing means that people picked up for relatively minor crimes can face deportation, along with the more serious criminals the program was meant to target.

“As operated now, Secure Communities is diminishing trust, an essential part of the neighborhood fabric and a vital public safety tool,’’ Menino wrote.

“Secure Communities must change substantially or be scrapped,’’ he wrote.

Boston Police Commissioner Edward F. Davis will visit the Secure Communities task force in Washington, D.C., this morning to deliver the letter and make a statement outlining his and Menino’s concerns about the program, according to police spokeswoman Elaine Driscoll.

Boston piloted Secure Communities in 2006, and since the program’s official launch in 2008, it has expanded to cities and towns in more than 40 states.

Just over one month ago, Menino and Davis defended the controversial initiative after Governor Deval Patrick refused to expand the program to State Police.

At the time, Boston officials said they felt that Secure Communities was helping to fight crime – critical in a city that has been besieged by drug and gun violence.But Menino at that time also ordered Davis to review his files to ensure that the program was targeting criminals.

On Friday, Menino met with law enforcement officials and the heads of immigrant advocacy groups in a roundtable discussion to learn more about how the program was affecting local immigrant communities. Many of those at the meeting said the program has failed to make streets safer because it discourages immigrants from reporting crimes or talking to police for fear of deportation.

In his letter, Menino called on the Secure Communities task force to demonstrate more transparency in how it decides whose fingerprints are shared with US Immigration and Customs Enforcement. The Department of Homeland Security must establish a “partition’’ that separates immigrants charged in felony crimes from those arrested on misdemeanors, he argued.

Otherwise, he said, Boston will no longer participate in the the program.

“Boston took part in Secure Communities as a pilot project, with the understanding that only the most serious criminals would be affected and the belief that our feedback would lead to improvements in the program,’’ Menino wrote in the letter. “It would be a further violation of the public trust if instead Secure Communities proves to be a knot that the federal government will not untie.’’

It is not clear what effect Menino’s threat to have Boston stop participating in the program will make: A senior official in the Department of Homeland Security told the Globe last month that the program will be rolled out nationwide by 2013, regardless of whether state or local leaders approve.

Brendan Ryan, a spokesman for Patrick, said the governor stands by his previous criticisms of the Secure Communities program.

“This doesn’t really change anything for us,’’ Ryan said.

Last month, Patrick said he would no longer support the program because he believed it caused more harm than good by fracturing relationships between police and community members. “We give up more than we get,’’ he said. Patrick became the third governor, after Andrew Cuomo of New York and Pat Quinn of Illinois, to refuse to enforce Secure Communities.

Chuck Jackson, a spokesman with ICE, said last night by e-mail that the organization will “respond directly’’ to any local officials who express concerns about the program. ICE, he said, has made plans to improve the Secure Communities program, including the creation of an advisory board that will determine ways to best target those who pose a threat to their community.

“ICE seeks to enforce our nation’s immigration law in a smart and effective manner that best promotes public safety, border security, and the integrity of the immigration system,’’ Jackson said.

Patricia Montes, executive director of Centro Presente, a Somerville-based immigrant rights organization, was one of the officials who participated in a roundtable discussion with Menino about Secure Communities. She said she was pleased by Menino’s stance.

“I’m glad to hear he is going to complain about this program,’’ Montes said. “It’s unnecessary. It’s a program to criminalize and intimidate immigrants who don’t have proper documents. We are not against deporting criminals. The problem is they are also deporting people without criminal records.’’

Laura Rotolo, a staff attorney for the American Civil Liberties Union of Massachusetts said, while she had not seen the mayor’s letter, she applauded his assessment of the Secure Communities program.

“This program has been shown time and time again to dangerous, not just for immigrants but for public safety in general,’’ Rotolo said. “It drives immigrants further underground, it makes them afraid to talk to police or be witnesses.’’

Steve Kropper, co-chairman of Massachusetts Citizens for Immigration Reform, said the Secure Communities Program has been successful in tackling the problem of illegal immigration.

“In the last few years we’ve made substantial strides in stemming the tide of illegal immigration,’’ Kropper said. “Now is not the time to back off.’’

Kropper said the fact that low-level offenders were being affected by the program was an indication of its success.

“The opportunity when there is a minor offense to check the immigration status of someone is a very efficient way to solve the problem of illegal immigration,’’ Kropper said.

Mark Krikorian, executive director of the Center for Immigration Studies, a Washington-based think tank that favors stricter controls on immigration, said the mayor’s opposition to the program is akin to the establishment of so-called sanctuary cities where local authorities attempt to protect illegal immigrants from federal law enforcement.

“The fact is it’s not just a useful program, it’s almost a minimal prerequisite for a serious immigration control system,’’ Krikorian said. “If illegal immigrants are not identified when they are picked up by local authorities, how will federal law enforcement ever find them?’’

Krikorian said those opposed to Secure Communities are trying to make immigration status a secondary offense that a person cannot be initially cited for, like seat-belt laws in many states.

Part of the problem, he said, is the Obama administration has been ambivalent and inconsistent on immigration enforcement. “They talk up Secure Communities, but they don’t like it. They look at it like my 11-year-old looks at broccoli. They’ll eat just enough to get dessert.’’

Maria Sacchetti of the Globe staff contributed to this report. Martine Powers can be reached at [email protected]; Stewart Bishop at [email protected]

Patrick says he won’t sign Secure Communities program

Please consider calling the Governor of Massachusetts to thank him for his decision: 617- 725-4005

Patrick says he won’t sign Secure Communities program

By Maria Sacchetti and Noah Bierman, Globe Staff

In a major turnaround on immigration enforcement, Governor Deval Patrick said today that he will refuse to sign the controversial federal Secure Communities program, which refers illegal immigrants arrested even for minor crimes to federal immigration officials for deportation.

The refusal sets up a showdown with the federal government over a key initiative on illegal immigration, and follows states such as Illinois and New York refusing to sign on to the program. In a letter dated Friday, Public Safety Secretary Mary E. Heffernan said the state was concerned that the program, which refers criminals based on fingerprints, is creating fear in the immigrant community and is netting more non-criminals, such as those caught driving without a license, than hard-core offenders.

“The Governor and I are dubious of the Commonwealth taking on the role of federal immigration enforcement,” Heffernan, wrote in the letter to US Immigration and Customs Enforcement, the Homeland Security agency in charge of detaining and deporting illegal immigrants. “We are even more skeptical of the impact that Secure Communities could have on residents of the Commonwealth.”

She said the Patrick administration was concerned that Secure Communities wasn’t meeting its main goals — deporting hard-core criminals. She said that more than half of those deported under Boston’s program were non-criminals and only 1 in 4 were hard-core criminals, and accused ICE of sending mixed messages about the program.

It is unclear why it took the Patrick administration months to come to this conclusion, since the statistics were available in media reports since last year.

In December, the Patrick administration said it would sign up with the federal program, because it snagged violent criminals for deportation, something the administration still supports, and because the program would be mandatory nationwide by 2013. The Patrick administration noted Boston’s willing participation in the program. The city had piloted it for the federal government since 2006 and continued when it expanded in 2008.

But advocates for immigrants protested, saying that ICE’s own statistics showed that more than half of those detained by the program were non-criminals.

The protests prompted the Patrick administration to hold a series of public meetings this year to address concerns about the program, eliciting sharply different views.

Immigrant advocates said illegal immigrants would be afraid to call the police for help, while Tea Party activists urged the governor to sign on to Secure Communities to sweep criminals out of the country.

Advocates for immigrants today hailed the news that Patrick would not sign.

Centro Presente, a Somerville-based statewide advocacy group that was among the first to protest the program, urged Boston to drop out as well.

“We are obviously very pleased that Governor Patrick has decided to not enter Massachusetts into the Secure Communities Program.  He campaigned as a friend of the immigrant community and with this act he has walked that talk,” said executive director Patricia Montes, adding, “We hope that Mayor Menino will reconsider Boston’s participation in this program in light of its poor performance as reflected in ICE’s own statistics.”

Christen Varley, president of the Greater Boston Tea Party, expressed outrage today at the Patrick administration’s refusal to sign up for the program, saying it puts all Massachusetts residents at risk, including illegal immigrants. She pointed out the case of an illegal Ecuadoran immigrant, who had been arrested and released before he allegedly went on to kill a Brockton woman, also here illegally, and her 2-year-old son in February.

She said her group would continue to lobby hard for the program.

“The reality is the people of America do want this because they are tired of paying the bill, they are tired of being victimized,” she said, adding, “We have concrete examples of where horrific crimes could have been prevented.”

The Secure Communities program is now in 42 states, according to ICE. Since it began in October 2008 through April 30, 2011, ICE has deported more than 77,000 criminals; less than half were convicted of aggravated felonies such as murder.