Blog Archive

Sunday, June 12, 2011

Mayor, Governor oppose federal government

By Andrew Firestone
Somerville News
June 9, 2011

Immigrant rights advocates were vindicated on Monday, June 6, when Governor Deval Patrick announced he would refuse to sign onto the federal Secure Communities program. Secure Communities is a program used to identify and deport violent offenders who turn out to be undocumented. Patrick’s Secretary of Public Safety, Mary Heffernan, wrote a letter to ICE saying that of those almost 800 deported since 2008, only one in four was convicted of a felony crime.

Patrick joins Governors Andrew Cuomo of New York and Pat Quinn of Illinois in their rejection of the memorandum of agreement. Patrick had previously been threatened with legislation that would block federal funds and his own salary if he refused to sign onto the Secure Communities program, which takes biometric data of suspected illegal immigrants for violent crimes and scans them into an Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) agency database. Critics of the program have said it needlessly complicates and exacerbates social tensions while denigrating the immigrant population.

“I know that in my city, ICE conducts raids and warrant-less searches,” said Representative Denise Provost of Somerville. Provost attended a rally organized by Somerville’s own Centro Presente June 1, in the Nurses Hall at the Statehouse. “This kind of thing can only make our community insecure.”

Provost said that top government officials around the country had begun to protest “vague” and “misleading” language used by the Federal Department of Homeland Security, mandating the program be implemented nationwide by 2013. She mentioned a letter by Congresswoman Zoe Lofgren (D-CA), asking the nation’s Inspector General Charles Edwards to perform a legal review of this program.

“Having conducted with my legal staff an initial review of the documents that have been made public, I believe that some of these false and misleading statements may have been made intentionally, while others were made recklessly, knowing that the statements were ambiguous and likely to create confusion,” wrote Lofgren. She then urged the Inspector General to conduct a “thorough investigation” into possible criminal violations in drafting the program.

“The statements in question deal primarily with the issue of whether Secure Communities is a mandatory program that all states and localities must participate in or whether localities may be permitted to ‘opt out’ of the program,” wrote Lofgren. This included intentional vagueness on the actual meaning of “opt out” and a refusal to say if it were voluntary.

“It is unacceptable for government officials to essentially lie to local governments, Members of Congress, and the public,” said Lofgren.

Somerville had previously stated that it would not cooperate with the program, with Mayor Joseph Curtatone going so far as to proclaim Somerville’s immigrants universally safe from identification checks, save for a violent crime. The proclamation, made in November, seemed almost a throwback to Somerville’s former status as a sanctuary city.

“I’m pleased with the Governor’s decision,” said Curtatone. “We’re all unified in terms of wanting tighter security and the importance of having tighter security but we also understand as municipal leaders that we need the cooperation of everyone who lives in the city.”

Curtatone echoed the concerns of Provost and state Senator Jamie Eldridge (D-Marlborough) in his belief that SC would drastically exacerbate criminal activity in poor immigrant communities, due to the fear it creates. “We can’t have this inherent fear of talking to our law enforcement officials. I need their assistance as Mayor to solve issues of public health and public crime.”

“They are a critical component of enhancing community policing and I need to earn their trust. As we think about having more stringent security measures we need to also be understanding how to balance that with our need to get more engagement from all segments of our community without putting a fear in them about being deported,” he said.

Eldridge, who joined Provost in speaking at the rally, said he had grave misgivings over a law that would subject immigrants to profiling and bring out hate in immigration opponents. “This is a program that’s going to create more division in every community in Massachusetts and therefore it doesn’t make sense,” he said. He recalled attending an event where residents were photographing immigrants and threatening to send the pictures to ICE.

The rally also heard from several immigrants, illegal and legal, who said that police had been violating their rights, ransacking their homes on flimsy pretext and imprisoning members of their community, causing widespread terror. These included a tearful plea from a mother of three, who said that the stress of her husband’s arrest and detainment due to not having documents had caused her to have a miscarriage.

Homeland Security officials hit back at Patrick on June 7, saying that they had no ability to stop the program, which would be implemented nationwide by 2013. Homeland Security officials say they will force Massachusetts to join in anyway.

“For me this issue is a theological one, this issue is a moral one,” said Reverend Eddie Johnson of St. James in Cambridge. “When I think of the alien, I think of Leviticus [19:34], where we hear that the alien, who resides with us, shall be with us a citizen, and we are to love the alien as ourselves for we were once aliens,” he said.

“Together I know we will create a better future: the future that God has intended for us all.”