Amherst Votes to Opt-out of Controversial Secure Communities

In a nearly unanimous vote at its town meeting Monday night, the town of Amherst chose to opt-out of a controversial federal immigration program called Secure Communities. The vote ensures that requests to hold undocumented immigrants by the Immigration and Customs Enforcement Agency, or ICE, will not be honored by the Amherst Police Department.

Secure Communities is an effort by ICE to remove undocumented immigrants who pose a threat to national security or public safety. Under the program, ICE can make a request, called a detainer, to hold a suspected illegal immigrant. It can also run background checks to identify the immigration status of an individual after an arrest. Jeff Napolitano, a principal supporter of Amherst’s resolution, says the town’s participation in background checks is federally mandated. 

“What isn’t out of the town’s hands, and what was declared yesterday, was that the police department will not honor requests to hold undocumented immigrants.”

In a statement, Ross Feinstein, a spokesperson for ICE said that though ICE has not sought to compel compliance among local police,  ”Jurisdictions that ignore detainers bear the risk of possible public safety risks.”

Amherst Chief of Police Scott Livingstone says he is fully supportive of the resolution, though his department has never received an ICE detainer.

“The next one we get will be the first one we get, if we receive one. So, the resolution is very clear, and we’re going to, as an agency, abide by the resolution.”
 
Chief Livingstone says similar resolutions have been passed in both Springfield and Northampton. He says he expects more Western Massachusetts communities to take similar actions in the future.