Patrick reverse on criminal alien program means little here

Patrick reverse on criminal alien program means little here

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Governor Deval Patrick’s decision not to sign a memorandum of understanding to enlist Massachusetts in the Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) “Secure Communities” program is likely to have little effect on Martha’s Vineyard.

Gov. Patrick announced his decision Friday. He insisted it is not a reversal of the position he took during his reelection campaign.

Secure Communities is an ICE program authorizing the F.B.I. to automatically share fingerprints with ICE, after state and local authorities arrest and book into jail a criminal offender. States, including Massachusetts, routinely submit fingerprints to the F.B.I. to cross-check for outstanding warrants.

On Martha’s Vineyard, the Dukes County Jail handles all booking on the Island. The Dukes County Sheriff’s Department already checks fingerprints or other biometric information against ICE records.

The fingerprint check alerts local authorities if ICE has issued a detainee order for an individual. The federal agency can issue detainee orders for several reasons. Usually, it is because they want to question the individual, they have missed an immigration hearing, or they have already been ordered deported. The detainee order requires local authorities to hold the offender for 48 hours, while ICE decides whether it wants to take enforcement action.

So far this year, ICE has taken custody of 12 people booked through the Dukes County Jail.

During the same January to June time period in 2010, ICE took five people into custody. In the same 2009 time period, 15 individuals were taken into federal custody.

Decisions, decisions

Sheriff Michael McCormack said it is the governor’s decision to make, but he thinks the Secure Communities program could be a valuable tool for Island police.

“A couple of agents came down and explained the program to me,” Mr. McCormack said. “I thought it was a good program. I would have signed on. One thing it does is take profiling out of it, you check everybody.”

According to ICE, seven percent of the law enforcement agencies in Massachusetts have signed on to the program voluntarily. From November 5, 2008 through December 31, 2010, ICE statistics count 381 convicted criminal aliens taken into custody from local law enforcement agencies. The agency says 137 convicted criminal aliens were removed from the United States. ICE could not provide statistics showing the number of people taken into custody or deported on Martha’s Vineyard.

“The highest priority of any law enforcement agency is to protect citizens and communities it serves,” ICE spokesman Chuck Jackson said Tuesday in a statement. “When it comes to enforcing our nation’s immigration laws, U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) is focusing its limited resources on those in our country illegally who have also broken criminal laws.

“If the fingerprint check reveals that an individual is unlawfully present in the United States, ICE takes enforcement action — prioritizing the removal of individuals who present the most significant threats to public safety as determined by the severity of their crime, their criminal history, and other factors.

“The federal government, not the state or local law enforcement agency, determines what immigration enforcement action, if any, is appropriate. Only federal officers make immigration decisions, and they do so only after an individual is arrested for a criminal violation of state law, separate and apart from any violations of immigration law.

“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.”

The Patrick administration cited a “lack of clarity” and inconsistent implementation for its decision not to join the program.

“The governor and I are dubious of the Commonwealth taking on the federal role of immigration enforcement,” Public Safety Secretary Mary Beth Heffernan wrote in a letter to acting Secure Communities director Marc Rapp, informing the Department of Homeland Security that Massachusetts would not participate. “We are even more skeptical of the potential impact that Secure Communities could have on the residents of the Commonwealth,” Ms. Heffernan said.

Course reversed

The decision by Patrick to reverse course follows similar actions taken by New York and Illinois.

After the state’s participation was an issue during his run for governor, Patrick announced last December that the state would sign onto the Secure Communities program.

The governor and other public safety officials said they were led to believe by the Obama administration that participation would be mandatory by 2013, and hoped to help shape the implementation of the program.

The Obama administration has indicated it would like to have full participation in the program by 2013, but there have been conflicting reports over whether states would be required to participate or whether the federal government could move forward without memorandums signed by states.

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