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The immigration battles intensifies

Dec 18, 2010 9:51 am
Massachusetts newspapers, including the Berkshire Eagle, ran stories yesterday and today about how their State Police and other Mass. law enforcement agencies will now join a controversial program intended to help federal authorities detect illegal immigrants, with state Public Safety Secretary Mary Beth Heffernan saying Massachusetts will sign an agreement to formally join Secure Communities, a federal program that screens all people who are arrested and fingerprinted to determine who is an illegal immigrant. Those here illegally will be reported to US Immigration and Customs Enforcement, which will decide whether to detain and deport them. State officials are saying they agreed to sign up because the Obama administration has demanded that the system expand nationwide by 2013. Boston, which already runs the program, was a pilot for the system. However, state officials complained that the US government has sent them mixed signals on the system. The move marks a shift for the Patrick administration, which had adamantly opposed having the State Police help enforce immigration law and overturned former governor Mitt Romney’s pact with the federal government to deputize some state troopers to enforce immigration law.

Gov. David Paterson signed New York state onto the program in May, a move that is being protested and petitioned throughout the state, as is also happening in neighboring New Jersey, asnd is expected in Massachusetts.

The Massachusetts State Police will participate in a federal program that automatically checks the immigration status of those who are arrested, the state's top state public safety official announced Friday.

In a statement, Public Safety Secretary Mary Beth Heffernan said the state will formally join a program called Secure Communities after months of deliberating by state officials.

The Immigration and Customs Enforcement program allows arrestees' fingerprint information to be checked against FBI criminal history records and biometrics-based immigration records kept by the Department of Homeland Security. But the program has drawn fire from some Massachusetts-based immigrant advocacy groups who say it discourages legal and illegal immigrants from cooperating with police.

Heffernan said state officials concluded that they have to participate.

"It has become clear now that this program is going to be mandatory for all communities in the near future," Heffernan said in a statement. "With that knowledge we will sign the (agreement) with ICE."

Patricia Montes, executive director of Centro Presente, a Somerville-based immigrant advocacy group, condemned Friday's announcement and said the program is really aimed at targeting immigrants, not fighting violent crime.

"It is sad and it is very lamentable that in this state, that is considered one of the most progressive in the country, that the Patrick administration would sign onto something as odious as the ironically named Secure Communities program," Montes said.

The decision was also denounced by the Massachusetts Immigrant and Refugee Advocacy Coalition and the ACLU of Massachusetts over concerns that ICE would keep data even in a wrongful arrest.

"Gov. Patrick has previously shown great sensitivity to the concerns expressed by the state's immigrant and refugee communities," said Eva Millona, executive director of the coalition, noting she was disappointed by the governor's reversal.

But the move was hailed by Attorney General Martha Coakley, who said she supported the decision.

"It is a positive step for public safety to ensure that we are properly identifying people who already have been arrested and sharing that information with federal authorities for appropriate action," Coakley said.
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