Boston Part Of Immigration Program That Raises Profiling Concerns

BOSTON — The Arizona law aimed at removing illegal immigrants has attracted attention and pitted the federal government against the state of Arizona.

But the Obama administration is quickly and quietly rolling out a program, started in Boston, that relies on the help of local police departments and is raising fears of racial profiling.

The program is called Secure Communities.

“(It) is our strategy to identify and remove criminal aliens,” says Jim Martin, the deputy field director for Boston’s Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) office. “We focus on those that pose the most danger to communities, to the general public.”

The program will help the Obama administration reach its goal of deporting 400,000 immigrants this year. It depends on cities and towns funneling information on the people they arrest to immigration authorities, who check to see if they’re violating immigration laws and might be deportable.

Between October of 2008 and June of this year, 102 people were deported as a result of Boston’s participation. Almost half of them were charged with lower-level crimes.

San Francisco, Chicago and Washington, D.C. have fought to block this program. A Boston police spokesperson wouldn’t confirm whether the department is participating.

But according to federal documents and ICE, the Boston Police Department is participating. These officials say Boston is one of the cities where the program started.

“Boston was actually part of a pilot back in 2006 that first tested interoperability,” Martin says.

According to Martin, Boston shares the fingerprints of everyone it arrests with immigration officials. He says it’s all part of a plan to work more “efficiently.”

Here’s how it works:

When Boston police officers arrest someone, they enter their fingerprints into a database of FBI, Homeland Security and immigration information. If the person has had any interaction with immigration officials — if they overstayed a visa, if they applied for asylum, if they have a green card — it will ping officials. If ICE wants that person, they’ll call Boston police to put a hold on them.

ICE categorizes these immigrants — some of whom are here legally — by the severity of the charges against them. The program is supposed to target the worst offenders — “Level 1s” — people charged with murder, kidnapping, national security crimes. But Martin says ICE officials also deport people accused of lesser crimes that are picked up by Boston police officers.

“It’s based on what our resources allow,” he says. “Certainly somebody that is arrested for a Level 2 offense that also has those charges which make them removable, if we have the resources to devote to that, then we certainly will do that and enforce the immigration laws.”

CLICK TO ENLARGE (Graphic by Jeff Carpenter for WBUR. Source: Immigration and Customs Enforcement)

Between October of 2008 and June of this year, 102 people were deported as a result of Boston’s participation. Almost half of them were charged with lower-level crimes (Levels 2 and 3). Those can include minor drug charges, burglary, driving without a license or, in Martin’s words, just being “removable.”

Advocates say the net is too big. And they are shocked that Boston is participating in this program.

“The truth is, it hurts,” says John Willshire Carrera, an immigration attorney for Greater Boston Legal Services. “I’d also like to know when they were going to tell us about it.”

Willshire Carrera says the Boston Police Department is “now part of a system that is sweeping through communities and sweeping through areas basically checking everybody all of the time. This is a real problem for me.”

He and other advocates worry this will hurt what they say has been a trusting relationship between immigrant communities and Boston police.

Eva Millona heads the Massachusetts Immigrant and Refugee Advocacy Coalition.

“(Immigrants) will go further underground, and will not go to the police to report crimes out of fear that now local police are deputized and are serving the federal government,” Millona said.

National immigrant advocates worry that this program could promote racial profiling. If police know everyone they arrest will be checked through an immigration database, they might target people who they think look “illegal.”

“They will go further underground, and will not go to the police to report crimes out of fear that now local police are deputized and are serving the federal government.”
– Eva Millona, MIRA

But immigration officials defend the program, saying it avoids profiling because everyone is entered into the database. And it relies on fingerprints.

Jessica Vaughan also supports Secure Communities. She’s an expert on law enforcement for the Center for Immigration Studies, a think tank that wants tighter restrictions on immigration. She’s disappointed that ICE has only deported about 3 percent of the people accused of lower-level crimes in Boston.

“I think you have wonder if that is enough,” she says. “When, it’s very possible that some of these lower-level offenders could go on and do go on to commit serious crimes. Even though they’ve been brought to the attention of ICE, ICE knows where they are but doesn’t remove them. It certainly doesn’t provide much of a deterrent.

“If anything it might encourage people to stay because they know that unless you are an axe murder or a serial rapist you’re not going to be subject to removal,” Vaughan added.

Vaughan says immigration officials should find faster ways to deport people while still giving them due process. And they should get the resources they need for detaining people.

According to ICE, Boston is the only place in Massachusetts that’s participating in Secure Communities. But ICE official Jim Martin says his agency is trying to sign up other cities and towns. First, they’re focusing on places they consider “high-risk.”

ICE is “looking at things such as crime statistics, some of our own enforcement and removal data. We also have to consider the availability of resources at all levels,” Martin said.

ICE had hoped to have this program in almost half of Massachusetts counties by now. Martin wouldn’t reveal a deployment schedule, but says he hopes to get other police departments on board as quickly as possible.

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  • Steven

    “Eva Millona heads the Massachusetts Immigrant and Refugee Advocacy Coalition (MIRA).”

    Sounds more like the “Massachusetts Illegal Immigrant and Refugee Advocacy Coalition”.

    I support this and as an American citizen if I am arrested I have to be fingerprinted and checked for warrants and whether or not I’m a fugitive in another state. Apparently Millona believes that this will catch too many latinos that have broken the law. Looking at the numbers, I’m not sure if it is doing enough. 2,013 fingerprints were flagged and only resulted in 102 deportations. As we have seen with the recent death of a nun at the hands of a drunk driving illegal alien, it may not go far enough. This same illegal alien was previously arrested twice for OUI and was still in this country. They should expand this program and truly make it a secure community for everyone. How many times do we get help from illegal aliens in capturing fugitives and reporting crimes? It seems to me these illegal aliens do enough on their own to get caught and this tool will help us ID them as being in this country illegally and as criminal threats. Exapand this program and make it a law that every state should have to follow suit. This is a nation of laws. Disobey them at your own peril. Just like the average american citizen does.

    It also sounds like Mass. missed out on close to 2,000 deportations. This program should be expanded for any illegal alien caught while being arrested for another crime. I like the sound of this program but it should be expanded for any crime and not give a free pass to people in this country illegally who commit low level infractions.

  • Peter from New England

    If most immigrants that now enter the United States are non-white is there any effective way to enforce immigration law without profiling?

  • Horace Rumphole

    The claim of racial profiling is merely the last gasp of the illegal alien advocacy movement. They lack rational arguments for amnesty and are now trying to frustrate enforcement, making specious claims that the laws of Arizona could possibly result in racial profiling. Well, there are many laws on the books today that could possibly be abused by racial profiling. We don’t let that risk prevent us from making law. We pass the law and punish the abusers on a case by case basis.

  • Amy


  • allen

    What kind of crops are they picking in Boston this time of year?

  • Deanne

    Why is WBUR constantly defending illegal aliens or any action that is aimed to identify them? We the American people have a right to expel illegal aliens no matter what the color of their skin. The racial card is getting old and has nothing to do with this issue. It is about foreigners entering our country illegally. It is about enforcing our laws. I am still astounded that some people think this is offensive? Should they be offended by these law breakers?

  • http://www.verdeamarelo.org Heloisa Maria Galvao

    I wonder what happened to Boston. It used to be a friendly city, always welcome and proud of its diversity. One thing that I really dislike about this program is the fact that it is done without us really knowing about it; even the police seem not to know the complete extension of it. If this is the great program that some claim it to be, shouldn’t it be openly advertised? I am afraid we all have been turned into Big Brothers, informants. And as a result of this program do we feel safe? Are our children safer?
    I would like to know how many of these deportees have criminal records and what crimes have they committed?

  • rstone

    Immigrants who are here legally do not have to go under ground. Those who have snuck across our border illegally are criminals and undermine what those who had to wait in line to come here had to go through.

  • ketrout

    I don’t understand why ICE is being selective on which ILLEGAL ALIENS they are deporting? Any and ALL ILLEGAL ALIENS should be deported, PERIOD!!

  • http://n/a Gina Cruz

    The question remains the same and NOBODY is asking these “advocates” that question. If we cannot use this method to track down and deport illegal aliens, then what method WOULD be acceptable to you? The answer to THAT question is the one that matters and it would show the American public what these people are all about – open borders and the abolition of US sovereignty!

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