The Federal Secure Communities program will be activated across Massachusetts next week. Supporters call the program a valuable crime-fighting tool against criminals who are in the U.S. illegally. Detractors claim it will leave communities anything but secure. Under the program state and local police must forward fingerprints and other information from their arrests to federal authorities for checks against FBI and immigration databases, allowing Immigration and Customs Enforcement officials to seek detention of illegal immigrants and possible deportation. But local and state police like Northampton Police Chief Russell Sienkewicz say they’ve been sending information to the FBI for years. So Secure Communities won’t change their standard practices.
“If it’s a legal court order issued by a federal immigration judge that this person needs to be detained for up to 48 hours, which is what the current process is before Secure Communities or after Secure Communities, then we will abide by that. And then if I.C.E. fails to act on the 48 hour detainer, then the person is released. It doesn’t change anything; it’s what we did before… it’s what we’ll do now.”
Authorities say the program has resulted in the deportation of more than 110,000 immigrants convicted of serious crimes, including rape and child sexual abuse. But critics say more than half of the people picked up and deported under the program have never been convicted of any crime. Jeff Napolitano of the American Friends Service Committee of western Massachusetts says local jurisdictions can still take action to oppose secure communities. One measure would be adopting policies that reject detention based solely on immigration status.
“They can still honor criminal warrants, but detainers that are solely on the basis of immigration status can be turned down by local municipalities. There’s plenty of legal precedence, lots of places have it, including statewide in Connecticut.”
Secure Communities, which became mandatory in Connecticut last month, was implemented in New Hampshire on Wednesday, and will come into force in Massachusetts on Tuesday