what is “secure communities” really about?

Cross-posted from Imagine 2050, blog of the Center for New Community.

Saturday, February 26, I attended a public hearing in Worcester, MA, on the “Secure Communities Act” of the Immigration and Customs Enforcement agency (ICE). Community groups and individuals from Worcester and surrounding areas sent a clear message to the governor: “No” to Secure Communities and enforcement-only immigration policy, and “Yes” to a comprehensive approach on immigration. The hearing was the first in a series of community meetings across Massachusetts to bring public input to Governor Deval Patrick.

The ICE website describes how the Secure Communities Act will impact local law enforcement booking people after arrest:

“… the fingerprints of everyone arrested and booked are not only checked against FBI criminal history records, but they are also checked against DHS immigration records. If fingerprints match DHS records, ICE determines if immigration enforcement action is required, considering the immigration status of the alien, the severity of the crime and the alien’s criminal history.”

Secure Communities is slated to be implemented nationally by 2013, and Massachusetts state officials announced in December 2010 that the State Police would join the initiative. This set off a wave of outcry across Massachusetts, which lead to a protest February 14th at the State House by a coalition of immigrant rights and civil liberties organizations.

The Worcester meeting was hosted by the African Council and featured Eva Millona, Executive Director of the Massachusetts Immigrant and Refugee Advocacy Coalition, and John Grossman, undersecretary for the Executive Office of Public Safety and Security in Massachusetts. Secure Communities has been piloted in several cities, and people cited evidence that it is not in fact achieving its stated goals, and is increasing fear in immigrant communities. Boston has been one of these pilot cities since 2006.

Statistics from ICE show that of the 41,929 individuals deported through this program between October 2009 and August 2010, over 26% of these individuals had no criminal convictions.

If people without criminal records are at risk for deportation, they will be less likely to call law enforcement in unsafe situations. Many people spoke directly to the risk this posed to domestic violence victims, who are often accused of misconduct by their abusers.

Fear of deportation may override safety concerns, leading to public safety concerns for all Massachusetts residents. Whether or not Secure Communities is effective, many community members at the meeting spoke out that the program would increase distrust between the police and immigrant communities.

Unfortunately these clear and unified concerns, from voices across many parts of Worcester and surroundings communities, elicited no meaningful response from the state representative. Under-secretary Grossman attempted to lift responsibility from Governor Patrick’s administration, saying it was unclear what power the state had.

Grossman said the federal government could implement Secure Communities with or without state authorization. If this is the case, a unified national response to Secure Communities is needed. It may be that the state is under-estimating its ability to halt or slow the program’s implementation and more public pressure is needed.

All people across Massachusetts and the nation should take a stand against this act, which will serve to increase fear and distrust in our communities.

A list of the future hearings on Secure Communities in Massachusetts can be found here.

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