Brown argues for Secure Communities in state

Worcester Telegram & Gazette
By Lee Hammel
Photo By Tom Rettig

WEST BOYLSTON — U.S. Sen. Scott Brown said yesterday that if there were more leadership in Massachusetts, the state might already have the federal Secure Communities program or it might get it sooner.

While President Barack Obama and Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano favor the program for Massachusetts and the other states, he said, Gov. Deval Patrick does not welcome it.

After a tour yesterday of the Worcester County Jail and House of Correction, the Republican senator, who is seeking re-election this year, said Worcester County Sheriff Lewis G. Evangelidis and all sheriffs are handicapped by not having the information about inmates that Secure Communities would provide.

Mr. Brown said his support for Secure Communities is a difference between him and his presumed opponent this fall, Democrat Elizabeth Warren.

Mr. Evangelidis, who announced in August that he is applying to join Secure Communities because Mr. Patrick was refusing to, said he continues to await acceptance in the program. He said he is frustrated by sending fingerprints and other information to federal officials, but having to wait days before hearing back from the Department of Homeland Security if the inmate is an illegal alien whom DHS wants to hold.

Because Secure Communities, which would provide instant feedback, is not in place, “people can be bailed out and walk out that front door before the information is available from” Immigration and Customs Enforcement, he said.

The issue reached a boiling point in August after an illegal immigrant with a long criminal record allegedly killed a man in a hit-and-run accident while driving drunk in Milford.

Under Secure Communities, the FBI shares with Homeland Security fingerprint and other information it receives from state and local law enforcement. There are 2,504 jurisdictions in 46 states and territories that participate in Secure Communities and the remaining 19 percent will be in the program, whether or not they want to be, by the end of 2013, according to ICE spokesman Ross Feinstein.

Mr. Brown said he is glad about that, but “we could be first in line. We could be getting it right now and be the leader and be addressing these things.” Had Secure Communities been in place statewide, “it’s very possible that the people who have been hurt or lost their lives would not have been hurt and would not have lost their lives.”

Alec Loftus, a spokesman for Mr. Patrick, fired back: “Senator Brown’s comments are irresponsible and disappointing. They also show a lack of understanding of federal policy. Attempts to misrepresent the program or what the state does to comply with federal law do nothing to improve public safety; they are distractions.”

Mr. Evangelidis said, “What we were told by ICE and Homeland Security in Washington was, the louder your voice is for this, the more likely you’ll be next on the list.”

But a Homeland Security official said yesterday, “Any resistance to Secure Communities by the governor or the Massachusetts Department of Public Safety does not play a role on when or where ICE decides to activate this program.”

A spokesman for Ms. Warren said the candidate believes the FBI and ICE should share information to remove dangerous offenders. “She also understands that law enforcement officials in Massachusetts and across the country believe that the current program is creating barriers between police and communities and making it harder for them to work together to keep our neighborhoods safe,” press secretary Alethea Harney said.

Mr. Loftus said, “The Patrick-Murray administration sends all fingerprints that we receive from local law enforcement to the federal government, and will continue to do so to meet our law enforcement needs and protect public safety.”

He said, “The Department of Homeland Security has declared the states have no role whatsoever in implementing the Secure Communities program. Memorandas of agreement with individual states or jurisdictions are no longer required or sought by the federal government so that ICE can operate and implement the program, and previously signed agreements have been terminated.”