Green light for Secure Communities

Worcester Telegram and Gazette
By Lee Hammel

The U.S. Department of Homeland Security has notified state officials that it plans to implement the federal Secure Communities program in Massachusetts regardless of the objections of Gov. Deval Patrick and immigration activists.

Homeland Security said it will not say when the program will begin in the Bay State until it is implemented.

But Worcester County Sheriff Lewis G. Evangelidis, who has worked closely with Immigration and Customs Enforcement while crusading for the program, said he was informed that it would start next Tuesday.

A spokesman for the governor, Public Safety Secretary Mary Beth Heffernan released a statement: “Secure Communities is an information sharing program between federal agencies that can only be implemented by the federal government. Implementation of the program will have no practical effect on how we handle fingerprints and information sharing here.

“We already send all fingerprints to the federal government, and have been doing so for years.”

The governor said last year that Massachusetts wouldn’t participate in the federal program, which checks the immigration status of people who are arrested. “We run a serious risk of ethnic profiling and frankly fracturing incredibly important relationships in communities that are necessary for law enforcement,” he said then.

However, Homeland Security, admitting that there had been mistakes in communicating the program, said after that it would implement the program across the country, regardless of local opposition, by the end of 2013.

Following the death Aug. 20 of Matthew Denice, 23, of Milford, allegedly at the hands of an illegal immigrant who was driving drunk, Sheriff Evangelidis joined with two fellow Republican sheriffs to campaign for implementation of Secure Communities.

They said they would implement it in their jails if Mr. Patrick’s opposition was successful in keeping it from being implemented statewide, although that has not happened.

They were joined by Republican U.S. Sen. Scott Brown, who said yesterday, “The people of Massachusetts will finally have the protection they deserve from violent criminals who have entered our country illegally.”

Maureen Maloney, mother of Matthew Denice, said “We are very grateful that the U.S. Department of Homeland Security has decided to implement Secure Communities ahead of the 2013 deadline despite Gov. Patrick’s opposition to it.”

But she called it “bittersweet” because if the program had already been in place, “I’m pretty sure that my son would be alive because the person that killed my son has a long criminal record. If we had Secure Communities he would have been deported under the guidelines that they use.”

She vowed to continue to fight the causes of her son’s death: drunken driving and illegal immigration.

Mr. Evangelidis said the jail has always submitted inmate fingerprints to the Criminal Justice Information System and instantly received back criminal records. Beginning Tuesday, he said, he also immediately will receive information from Homeland Security on whether an inmate is an illegal immigrant, a foreign gang member, or even a terrorist — information he said he would like to have before someone is bailed.

Worcester Police Chief Gary J. Gemme said, “I do not believe that it will have any impact in Worcester. My priority is to continue to build trusting relationships with members of our diverse community and keep our community safe.”

He said, “WPD has no plan and we don’t anticipate any change in our practices or procedures.”

Ross Feinstein, a spokesman for ICE, said, “Secure Communities has proven to be the single most valuable tool in allowing the agency to eliminate the ad hoc approach of the past and focus on criminal aliens and repeat immigration law violators. In fiscal year 2011, for the first time ever, 55 percent of all of ICE’s removals were convicted criminals and over 90 percent of all removals clearly fell into” other high priorities for removal.

Mr. Evangelidis said an ICE official told him the political advocacy made a difference in moving up the date here for implementation.