By Andy Metzger
BOSTON — Showing continued concern over a deportation program, advocates pressed their case to a legislative committee Tuesday for a law limiting state and local law enforcement’s cooperation with the program.
Gov. Deval Patrick resisted implementation of Secure Communities in Massachusetts but his protestations did not stop Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) from commencing the program in May 2012 and Patrick said then that he would “uphold the law.” There was lengthy debate over whether Massachusetts should join the program but it has generated little debate on Beacon Hill since last May.
Activists and lawmakers are now seeking to change state law with legislation that would limit state enforcement of ICE detainers, provide attorney privileges to individuals before they are interviewed by ICE and require reimbursement for the expense of participation. The bills, sponsored by Sen. James Eldridge (D-Acton) and Rep. Carl Sciortino (D-Medford), are entitled an “an act to restore community trust in Massachusetts law enforcement.”
Secure Communities gathers data that local and state law enforcement submit to the FBI for identity verification and runs it through an immigration database, which can sometimes result in an immigration detainer on the individual, which ICE says helps remove dangerous people.
“Even though some aliens may be arrested on minor criminal charges, they may also have more serious criminal backgrounds which disguise their true danger to society,” an ICE spokesman said in a statement this spring. “Historically, some criminal aliens with ICE detainers, who have been mistakenly released to the streets rather than being turned over to ICE custody and placed in deportation proceedings, have subsequently committed more serious crimes.”
Gabriel Camacho, of the American Friends Service Committee, told the Joint Committee on the Judiciary the program is a “dragnet” that he alleged encourages “racial profiling” and sows distrust of local police in immigrant communities, hampering the chances for crime solving.
“Immigrant communities see local police as the doorway to deportation,” Camacho said. He said, “A foundation of American jurisprudence is the presumption of innocence,” which he said is lacking in immigration proceedings.
Massachusetts Immigrant and Refugee Advocacy Coalition Policy Director Shannon Erwin said only 24 percent of people with detainers have access to an attorney, Latinos make up 93 percent of those detained, most of those targeted by Secure Communities either have no criminal record or a minor criminal record, and immigration authorities have made errors.
“Folks have been deported who are U.S. citizens,” Erwin said.
House Judiciary Chairman Eugene O’Flaherty, a Chelsea Democrat, suggested that while the bill is being reviewed, advocates should ask Patrick to issue an executive order commanding the State Police to limit their involvement.
“I’m curious why you haven’t,” O’Flaherty told the panel of witnesses.
In Washington D.C., Congress appears near an impasse on reforming immigration, as a comprehensive bill that cleared the Senate has been met with criticism by House leadership.