Blog Archive

Tuesday, August 9, 2011

US set to expand deportation program

Agency says governor’s OK is not required
By Maria Sacchetti
The Boston Globe
August 06, 2011

US immigration officials eliminated a major hurdle yesterday to expanding Secure Communities in Massachusetts and nationwide, putting states on notice that the controversial law enforcement program will be fully deployed nationwide by 2013.

John Morton, director of US Immigration and Customs Enforcement, terminated what until now was a key step in launching the federal program: having each governor first sign a memorandum of agreement to enroll.

More than 40 governors have signed the memos to activate the program, which is meant to identify illegal immigrants with criminal backgrounds. But the Democratic governors of New York and Illinois disavowed theirs, and Governor Deval Patrick refused to sign it, delaying the program’s expansion in Massachusetts for nearly two years.

The announcement came in a letter from Morton to governors yesterday, stating that their signatures are not “legally necessary.’’

The move changes little in practice; immigration officials had previously said they would move ahead whether or not governors agreed. But eliminating the memos removes the possibility of more public opposition by governors and could make it easier for the program to expand.

US immigration officials launched Secure Communities in 2008, after piloting it in Boston and expanding in more than 40 states, enabling local law enforcement to share fingerprints of suspects arrested with federal immigration officials. The goal is to detain and deport illegal immigrants, particularly those who are violent or dangerous.

Yesterday’s announcement infuriated advocates for immigrants who said the federal agency’s action was ignoring concerns from Governor Patrick and others who say the program is also deporting illegal immigrants who came to the country to work and are not violent criminals.

“This is a message from the federal government to the state of Massachusetts that this program will be crammed down their throats, regardless of their opposition,’’ said B. Loewe, spokesman for the Los Angeles-based National Day Laborer Organizing Network.

Others praised the effort to expand the program and reduce the number of illegal immigrants who may compete for jobs.

“Federal law applies to all the states including Massachusetts,’’ said Steve Kropper, co-chairman of Massachusetts Citizens for Immigration Reform, which favors tougher enforcement of immigration laws. “If Massachusetts is known for being hostile to illegal immigrants, we will reap economic benefits. Dithering about whether to enforce the law is the worst of all paths.’’

The Secure Communities program has sparked concerns from police in Chelsea, Boston and other cities with large immigrant populations that the program is deporting illegal immigrants who are not violent criminals, saying they want to fight crime, not enforce federal immigration law.

In July, Boston Police Commissioner Edward F. Davis threatened to withdraw from the program after the Globe identified three examples of illegal immigrants placed into deportation proceedings after being stopped in Boston for minor traffic violations.

Patrick’s spokesman Alex Goldstein said yesterday that the governor received Morton’s letter, but that he intends to continue opposing the program.

“The governor has made his concerns about the program very clear … and he is going to continue to express those concerns,’’ he said.

Federal officials had hoped to have Secure Communities in half of Massachusetts counties by October 2010, but so far Boston is the only jurisdiction enrolled.

US officials had sent state officials a letter in 2009 urging them to sign the memo to “establish a solid foundation’’ to bring county and police departments online. Patrick waffled on the issue, vowing to sign last year, but ultimately changing his mind under intense public pressure.

Yesterday, a Department of Homeland Security official said in a phone interview that Secure Communities is still operating in activated jurisdictions in Illinois and New York.

He said he hoped local and state police would continue to honor ICE’s requests to hold immigrants who are caught through Secure Communities so that immigration officials can pick them up.

Framingham Police Chief Steven Carl, who has expressed mixed feelings about Secure Communities, said he would continue to cooperate with immigration officials, but said he hoped ICE would continue to focus on violent criminals.

“If the program is being sold to remove the violent offenders from the street, then they should be making a conscious effort to only remove the violent offenders from the street,’’ he said.

The Massachusetts Immigrant and Refugee Advocacy Coalition said ICE officials held a brief conference call with advocates for immigrants yesterday to break the news.

The ACLU of Massachusetts said they were reviewing the matter for possible legal violations, calling ICE’s action a “power grab.’’

“We are shocked,’’ said Laura Rótolo, a staff attorney. “Essentially it’s a slap in the face to the states who have been working hard to negotiate these things.’’