State joins program to identify illegal immigrants


Massachusetts will join a federal program that will allow state and local police to share information with federal immigration officials to verify the immigration status of those arrested and fingerprinted in Massachusetts, Gov. Deval Patrick announced on Friday, according to the State House News Service.

Public Safety Secretary Mary Beth Heffernan said the state planned to sign a memo of understanding to join the Secure Communities program, a federal initiative being pushed by the Obama administration that screens arrestees at the state and local level and refers illegal immigrants to the U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement agency.

Ms. Heffernan, in a statement, offered a lukewarm endorsement of the program, indicating that the administration planned to proceed carefully.

“Over the last year we have received conflicting information from ICE relative to the program. It has become clear now that this program is going to be mandatory for all communities in the near future. With that knowledge we will sign the MOU with ICE. We will also work closely with all communities to monitor the implementation and share with federal officials any concerns that are raised,” Heffernan said in her statement.

Attorney General Martha Coakley said she supported the governor’s 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,” Ms. Coakley said in a statement.

Mr. Patrick during his re-election campaign was pressured by his opponents to join the program, but said his administration was waiting to determine whether the program had been effective, based on a pilot in Boston, before joining the federal effort. The Obama administration has been pushing to expand the system nationwide by 2013.

The move drew praise Friday from some in the law enforcement community, but immigration advocates expressed concern that the program would lead to racial profiling in Massachusetts and target immigrants arrested for civil crimes and misdemeanors as much as violent offenders.

Under the program, people arrested in Massachusetts would have their fingerprints scanned through an F.B.I. database. Those identified as being here illegally will be reported to the U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement agency.

During a conference call this week with sheriffs and police chiefs in jurisdictions along the nation’s southwest border, U.S. Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano said the Secure Communities program had been expanded from 14 jurisdictions in 2008 to more than 800. She said ICE in fiscal 2010 set a record for overall removals of illegal aliens, with half of those removed, or more than 195,000, being convicted criminals.

Massachusetts had been one of 17 states to not yet sign onto the Secure Communities program. The Boston Police Department has piloted the program for the past two years resulting in the deportation of 256 individuals.

By signing the memorandum of understanding, Massachusetts officials will now begin discussing a rollout of the program with the federal government and make decisions about when and where the program will start, including whether law enforcement agencies at the local level will be required to participate.

Sen. Steven Baddour, the Methuen Democrat who took the lead in the Senate on efforts last session to crack down on illegal immigration, said joining Secure Communities will ensure “that illegal immigrants that commit crimes are dealt with appropriately.”