Immigrant advocates, police join to quell rumors
The federal program now sharing the fingerprints of everyone arrested in Massachusetts with immigration authorities has immigrant communities worried statewide, according to police and activists who say they are working overtime to dispel rumors of roundups, roadblocks, and mass deportations.
No sooner had the controversial information-sharing program taken effect in Massachusetts on May 15 than frantic telephone calls began pouring in to Framingham’s Brazilian radio station, WSRO-AM (650).
Callers reported hearing of a crackdown in Hudson, and a blitz of police checking green cards in Framingham and Marlborough. A crash on Route 9 spawned talk of a roadblock to check IDs.
None of it was true.
“There is a lot of fear in our community. There is confusion. There is misinformation,” said community activist Ilton Lisboa, who hosts a call-in show Wednesday nights with a Framingham police officer, Lieutenant Patricia Grigas. “I’m glad that this law is in place. They are targeting criminals, not ordinary people. We need to clarify that.”
Lisboa, who recently had Marlborough Police Chief Mark Leonard on the show to discuss the federal Secure Communities program, said many callers ask the same question — will they be fingerprinted just for reporting a crime?
The answer, Grigas and Leonard both said, is no.
“I think there is so much knee-jerk reaction to just the name Secure Communities. And it is misinformation. People are just reacting out of panic and fear of what they don’t know about the program,” Grigas said.
“For the local law enforcement, nothing changes from what we have been doing the last five years, the last 10 years. The fear in the community — and I am not even sure where they are hearing it — but they are hearing the program means the police will stop you on the street and demand ID and green cards. That is not true at all.”
“We had heard people are afraid to go to the hospital, afraid to go to the police station,” Leonard said. “When crimes are not reported, that doesn’t help anybody. We want them to know this only affects people who commit crimes.”
Under Secure Communities, police forward the fingerprints of all arrests electronically to the State Police, and the agency then shares the prints with the FBI and the Department of Homeland Security. The point is to identify violent criminals and repeat immigration-law offenders, said Ross Feinstein, spokesman for US Immigration and Customs Enforcement.
“Secure Communities has helped ICE remove more than 135,000 convicted criminal aliens, including more than 49,000 convicted of major violent offenses like murder, rape and the sexual abuse of children,” Feinstein said, while generating a total of 179,000 deportations since 2008.
Secure Communities came to Massachusetts as a pilot program with the Boston Police Department in 2006, but statewide adoption met with resistance from civil rights activists and elected officials, including Governor Deval Patrick and Boston Mayor Thomas M. Menino, who feared the system could lead to racial profiling.
Participation in Secure Communities is now mandated by the federal government.
It officially became nationwide last week, when Maine became the final state to accept the program, Feinstein said.
But fear about Secure Communities remains, according to Eva A. Millona, executive director of the Massachusetts Immigrant and Refugee Advocacy Coalition, which has been hearing from member organizations groups groups statewide.
“As far as implementation, we have been inundated with calls. They are coming in from across the state, from Springfield and Western Mass., from Marlborough, from Framingham, from Everett, from Somerville, from East Boston,” Millona said.
“We have domestic violence centers telling us they have victims who are too afraid to go forward’’ with their cases over concern that their immigration status will be checked, she said.
“Parenting Information Centers already are telling us people are too afraid to register their children for school. We have health centers telling us people are canceling their appointments. The impact is statewide, and fears about this program are interfering profoundly with people’s lives.”
“We have been against Secure Communities from the beginning. This is the type of thing we worried would happen — despite its name, that it would make communities less secure,” said Christopher Ott, communications director spokesman for the American Civil Liberties Union of Massachusetts. “There is this fear that people would be caught up in dragnets.”
The fear of being profiled may also discourage legal residents and US citizens from reporting crimes and cooperating with police, Ott said.
In Milford, Police Chief Thomas O’Loughlin said talk of profiling under Secure Communities is unfounded, since the program eliminates police discretion on whose fingerprints are forwarded to immigration authorities. All prints go to ICE, he said.
O’Loughlin has been reaching out to the town’s Ecuadoran and Brazilian communities through area churches, and even spoke recently with Beatriz Stein, Ecuador’s consul general, who had visited Milford after a fatal crash involving an illegal immigrant last year.
The case highlighted a chronic problem of undocumented immigrants driving without valid licenses, with Milford police averaging one arrest per day on the charge, O’Loughlinthe chief the chief said.
“I had a conversation with the consul general. She asked me how things went the first week” of Secure Communities, O’Loughlin said. “I told her we had only one case flagged by ICE,” the May 17 arrest of Tigoberto Orellano-Alonso, 25, of Mexico.
Orellano-Alonso, charged with operating under the influence of alcohol and driving without a license, initially gave police a false name, O’Loughlin said.
The check of his fingerprints revealed he had been previously deported in 2002, O’Loughlin said.
Orellano-Alonso is being held on an immigration detainer, and faces deportation proceedings after resolution of the case in Milford.
Jose Martinez can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.