Mass. Dem Senate hopeful seeks immigration law fix
BOSTON—A federal immigration law mandating that fingerprints taken from crime suspects by local law enforcement officials be turned over to the FBI creates barriers between police and immigrant communities and should be improved before being fully implemented next year, Democratic U.S. Senate candidate Elizabeth Warren said Monday.
Warren, a Harvard law professor and consumer advocate, was asked about the Secure Communities law after appearing at a Statehouse event sponsored by the Massachusetts Immigrant and Refugee Advocacy Coalition, or MIRA, which calls itself New England's largest organization promoting the rights of immigrants and refugees.
Under the Secure Communities program, the FBI would share a crime suspect's fingerprint information with the Department of Homeland Security. If it appeared that the crime suspect was in the United States illegally, Immigration and Customs Enforcement, or ICE, could initiate deportation proceedings.
U.S. Sen. Scott Brown and other state Republicans have targeted Warren's positions on immigration issues in recent days. Brown is seeking re-election after winning the seat in a 2010 special election to succeed to the late Democratic Sen. Edward Kennedy.
Brown has stated that Warren opposes Secure Communities. But the Democrat has crafted a more nuanced position, saying she believe the FBI and ICE should be allowed to share information that would help remove dangerous criminals from the streets. But she also has said that many community leaders and some law enforcement officials have expressed reservations about the program as currently designed.
"There are many who are worried that the way it is directed right now ... it doesn't focus on violent offenders and it builds walls between communities and those who police them," Warren told reporters on Monday. "And it's very important in order to have truly safe communities that the police and the communities are working closely and have ongoing relationships that are deep and lasting and based on trust."
Critics of Secure Communities, including some police officials, worry that it will lead to greater mistrust of law enforcement and discourage some immigrants from reporting crime or assisting in criminal investigations.
"What Secure Communities does is actually make communities less secure," said Marisa DeFranco, an immigration attorney from Middleton who also is seeking the Democratic nomination for U.S. Senate and appeared at Monday's advocacy event.
Immigrants, even if legal, "are not going to come forward as witnesses in crime or help police if a crime has been committed because even if they are documented, someone in their family isn't," she said.
DeFranco accused Brown of being "uninformed" on immigration issues but also criticized Warren for not taking stronger stands on Secure Communities and other issues.
Brown met last week with three Republican Massachusetts sheriffs who have called on the state to adopt Secure Communities immediately. Proponents have pointed to several incidents they say could have been prevented had the law been in place, including the death in Milford last August of a motorcyclist who police said was struck and dragged by a pickup truck driven by an illegal immigrant who was drunk and did not have a license.
The Massachusetts Republican Party also last week released an online video targeting Warren's opposition to a border fence, her support for in-state tuition for illegal immigrants and her support of the DREAM Act, a proposal to offer young illegal immigrants paths to citizenship through college education or military service.
Warren responded on Monday: "I believe people who are in the United States who do not have legal status through no fault of their own, who were brought here as children, and they want either to serve in the military or better themselves through higher education and help make this a more prosperous country should be encouraged to do that."