Massachusetts won’t sign onto immigration check program

June 6, 2011 in Dream Act, Secure Communities

BOSTON (FOX 25 / – Gov. Deval Patrick made a major reversal today, saying he’s not signing up for a controversial program aimed at deporting illegal immigrants with serious criminal records.

Gov. Patrick’s public safety secretary made the announcement in a letter released today that was sent to the U.S. Department of Homeland Security on Friday.

 Secure Communities has been a political hot potato for Gov. Patrick since last fall, when FOX Undercover first revealed his administration had been dragging its feet for a year on the federal government’s request to bring it to Massachusetts. Patrick eventually decided to sign on, but reversed course yesterday.

“I think this is the right decision for the Commonwealth. From a public safety position we’ll continue to work with the FBI and (U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement) for convicted felons who are undocumented people. But the Secure Communities program is not for us,” Patrick told reporters today.

Secure Communities links state and local police with US immigration authorities by automatically sharing fingerprints of arrestees with US immigration authorities. It’s supposed to identify and help deport illegal immigrants who have committed serious crimes.

Patrick says he supports that goal, but says Secure Communities is leading to the deportation of immigrants who haven’t committed crimes, or who have committed minor offenses.

His refusing to sign is a reversal from his stance last December, when he promised to activate Secure Communities state-wide under pressure from U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement, better known as ICE.

“Governor, are you going easy on criminal aliens?” asked FOX Undercover reporter Mike Beaudet.

“No we’re not,” replied Patrick. “We have consistently sent all fingerprints to the FBI. That’s a program and a practice that has gone on for some while now. Long before Secure Communities. And we have referred convicted felons to ICE for deportation and we will continue to do that.”

“Why the change since December?” asked Beaudet.

“The change since December is that the program is not mandatory,” Patrick replied.

The prospect of joining Secure Communities drew protests from immigrant advocates.

But now Patrick’s reversal is drawing fire.

“This is much more about politics than public policy,” said state Rep. Brad Jones, R-North Reading, the House Minority Leader. “And to the extent there were concerns about how the program was structured on the federal level, it seems to me based on the governor’s own representations, there’s probably nobody better to advocate with the administration about possible positive changes that need to be made to that program given the strong relationship that the governor trumpets with the president.”

Gov. Patrick’s decision has drawn cheers from immigrant advocates and the ACLU of Massachusetts, but Secure Communities may not be gone for good.

One of the governor’s top public safety official says the federal government can activate the program all on its own, and will do so by 2013.

ICE released a statement saying in part, “ICE regularly analyzes the effectiveness of its enforcement programs, as it is currently doing with Secure Communities. ICE looks forward to sharing the results of its analysis with the State of Massachusetts and to continuing to work with Massachusetts to ensure that those who are illegally in this country and have also committed a crime under state law are removed in order to protect the citizens and communities it serves.”

Boston’s police have used Secure Communities since 2006, and Gov. Patrick cited a large number of deportations of non-criminals because of that program as a reason for not joining. But Boston Police Commissioner Ed Davis says the program is working and is not deporting non-criminals.