Blog Archive

Monday, April 4, 2011

Tempers flare at Secure Communities hearing

By Mike LaBella
The Eagle Tribune
Apr 03, 2011

LAWRENCE — A federal program intended to identify and remove arrested illegal immigrants from the United States drew both scorn and support at a public hearing yesterday.

The Lawrence High School auditorium was filled with passionate pleas from those for and against the Secure Communities program.

"The Secure Communities program would trample and destroy our civil rights," said the Rev. Joel Almono, pastor of Grace Episcopal Church in Lawrence. "Rather than make them safer, we will make them less safe."

But Marty Lamb of Holliston, who came to the event on a bus filled with members of the Marlborough Tea Party group, said the Secure Communities program is misunderstood by people who believe it will result in racial profiling by police.

"This only deals with people arrested and booked, and not profiling, as some groups are claiming," he said prior to the hearing. "Fingerprints are color blind."

The Rev. Ralph Galen, minister of the Community Church of Immigrant City in Lawrence, said the Secure Communities program is neither for security nor communities.

"The U.S. needs immigration reform," he said. "This is not reform. This is a stopgap measure that creates fear and divisiveness in communities."

Many of those in the crowd yesterday believed the program would result in racial profiling by police, including Lawrence Mayor William Lantigua, who said he is opposed to Secure Communities.

He told The Eagle-Tribune that he worries it will give local law enforcement another tool for use in profiling people.

"Even though there is a law against profiling, it still goes on," he said. "In theory, it all sounds fine, but I'd rather they put resources into tracking down murderers and other criminals and solving serious crimes."

Yesterday's hearing was the third in a series of 10 community meetings the Patrick-Murray administration is holding to address concerns about Secure Communities, which allows the fingerprints of criminals who are arrested to be sent to Immigration Customs Enforcement (ICE) to determine if they are in this country illegally. More than 300 people attended the hearing.

Massachusetts Public Safety Secretary Mary Beth Heffernan, along with Curtis Wood, commissioner of the Massachusetts Department of Criminal Justice Information Services, and Richard Chacon, director of the Office of Refugees, outlined the plan and then opened the floor to comments.

Many in the crowd waved signs with phrases such as "Do your job, pass the law," while others had signs that said "Stop raids and deportations," and "Justice for immigrant families."

Nelson Butten, 37, of Lawrence was among those who waited in one of two lines to share his comments with the panel. He told Heffernan he is against Secure Communities, as it will perpetuate class and racial discrimination and separate families.

"One family with one income will have less chance of survival," he said.

State Rep. Marcos Devers, D-Lawrence, told Heffernan that he was disappointed in the Obama administration, saying that in the last two years many undocumented and "decent citizens of the world" were deported, and that it isn't right. He talked about the billions of dollars pumped into the economy by undocumented immigrants, to which a man in the back of the room responded by shouting "Illegal!"

Devers presented the panel with a bag filled with signatures of those who oppose the Secure Communities program.

The two-hour long meeting was often interrupted by shouts and expressions of anger from both sides of the controversial program, which the federal government wants to implement nationwide by 2013, and which has been operating as a pilot program in Boston.

Commissioner Wood told the crowd that the program is a technological change intended to improve and modernize the identification and removal of criminal illegal immigrants from the U.S. He said it does not give local or state law enforcement the power to act as vice agents in order to enforce immigration laws.

"It is not the same or similar to Arizona's law," he told the crowd.

Representatives from the Governor's Office of Community Affairs collected feedback from the public and said Heffernan plans to include this information in a letter to ICE before the program is fully implemented in Massachusetts.

Anyone wishing to comment on Secure Communities can contact the Governor's Constituent Services Office at 617-725-4005.