The Milford Daily News
By Brian Benson
MILFORD — With the death of a Milford man allegedly at the hands of an illegal immigrant who was drunk behind the wheel, lawmakers and law enforcement officials are urging the state to join a federal program that shares fingerprints and other information.
Worcester County Sheriff Lew Evangelidis has scheduled a press conference Friday to highlight his support for that program, called Secure Communities. It allows local police departments to automatically share fingerprints with Immigration and Customs Enforcement.
Supporters say the program will help get dangerous illegal immigrants off the streets. Critics argue it will terrorize an already suspicious immigrant community.
“Clearly that exchange of information is helpful,” Milford Police Chief Thomas O’Loughlin said. “Now we have to pick up the phone and call ICE. In some cases, by the time we get the information, the person is bailed and out the door.”
The push for Secure Communities follows the Saturday arrest of Nicolas D. Guaman, 34, of 10 Cherry St., Apt. 1, Milford, who authorities say was driving drunk when he struck Matthew J. Denice, who was riding a motorcycle. Denice, 23, was dragged a quarter-mile and died as a result of the crash.
Guaman, an Ecuadorian, is in the country illegally, police say.
Guaman has been charged with negligent vehicular homicide while driving under the influence of liquor, leaving the scene of an accident involving personal injury and death, possession of an open container of alcohol in a car, failure to stop for police, unlicensed driving, failing to yield at a stop sign, resisting arrest and wanton or reckless conduct creating risk to a child, according to court documents.
Evangelidis said in a statement that if Secure Communities were in place, Guaman could have been identified by ICE as illegal and possibly deported after one of his previous arrests.
In June, Gov. Deval Patrick did not sign a memorandum that would have launched the program in the state, citing worries it would deport people who were not convicted of serious crimes, could lead to racial profiling and may keep immigrants from reporting crimes, according to a letter from Secretary of Public Safety Marybeth Heffernan to ICE.
Yesterday, Patrick press secretary Alex Goldstein said in a statement that “the governor’s policy is that serious criminals who are here illegally should be deported. Massachusetts has and will continue to send fingerprints to the federal government, and the Massachusetts Department of Correction will continue to work with Immigration and Customs Enforcement to facilitate removal of undocumented immigrants who have been convicted of felonies.”
Frank Slouts, a spokesman for the Massachusetts Immigrant and Refugee Advocacy Coalition, agreed with Patrick’s rationale. Domestic violence victims may be discouraged from reporting crimes under Secure Communities because police often hear counter-arguments and arrest both the offender and the alleged victim, he said.
Slouts said if Guaman had been convicted of several prior charges including assault and battery on a police officer, he likely would have been deported without needing Secure Communities. Instead, he was given probation, and the charges were continued without a finding.
“I think there’s universal condemnation that this is a heinous act, but the fact that he’s undocumented isn’t the main issue,” Slouts said. “It’s that he was already part of the criminal justice system and wasn’t (convicted).”
State Sen. Richard Moore, D-Uxbridge, and state Rep. John Fernandes, D-Milford, both support Secure Communities and wrote letters to Patrick this week urging him to adopt tougher standards for driving without a license.
“I don’t see any real change in the policy,” Moore said of adopting Secure Communities. “What it does is that it gives the police an additional tool.”
Fernandes argued in his letter that fines are not enough to keep people from driving without a license. The state, he said, should have a minimum mandatory jail sentence for offenders who are in the country illegally.
“I hope that we don’t lose focus that this was not just about someone who might have been here illegally,” Fernandes said. “It’s just wrong, and that needs to change.”
Fernandes said the root of the illegal immigration problem is employment, and that employment laws need to be enforced more strictly.
Former state Rep. Marie Parente, who wrote a letter to President Obama urging him to take a tougher stance on illegal immigration, asked selectmen Monday to write a letter to Patrick supporting Secure Communities. The board did not act on her request.
Several Milford residents said the bigger issue is drunken driving.
“People just need to remember the fact that (Denice) lost his life to a drunk driver, and that’s a tragedy,” said Dana Auger, 20.
Gian Bontempo said he has lived in town for more than 40 years and is not against immigration, because it is what Milford was built on.
“It doesn’t matter what nationality (Guaman) was if he was drunk,” Bontempo said.
Denice’s friends have scheduled a vigil in Draper Park around 7:30 p.m. Friday, his brother Michael Denice said.
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