BOSTON Gov. Deval Patrick has decided Massachusetts won’t participate in a federal program that checks the immigration status of people who are arrested.
In a letter to the U.S. Department of Homeland Security, Massachusetts Public Safety Secretary Mary Beth Heffernan said Patrick won’t sign any memorandum of understanding for the state to join the federal Secure Communities program.
Patrick had previously said he believed the state might have no choice but to participate in the program.
In the letter, Heffernan said that while Patrick believes that serious criminals who are in the country illegally should be deported, he does not believe that the Secure Communities program accomplishes that objective.
Heffernan cited statistics from the federal Immigration and Customs Enforcement office that she said shows only about one in four of those deported since the start of Boston’s pilot participation in the program were convicted of a serious crime.
More than half of those deported were identified as “non-criminal,” she said.
“The governor and I are dubious of the Commonwealth taking on the federal role of immigration enforcement,” Heffernan wrote in the letter dated Friday and released by the administration Monday. “We are even more skeptical of the potential impact that Secure Communities could have on the residents of the Commonwealth.”
Defenders of the program say it only targets immigrants arrested for committing violent crimes and is not an effort to enforce federal immigration laws.
Heffernan said some law enforcement officials have said they fear the program is too broad and could deter the reporting of crime. Domestic violence advocates have also said they are worried the program could discourage victims from going to police.
“We are reluctant to participate if the program is mandatory and unwilling to participate if it is voluntary,” she wrote.
The program has been contentious in Massachusetts and other states.
Immigrant advocacy groups had urged Patrick not to sign onto the program, saying it could discourage immigrants from reporting crimes while encouraging police to practice racial profiling.
Massachusetts isn’t alone in opting out.
New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo has suspended that state’s participation in the program. Illinois Gov. Pat Quinn has also said Illinois won’t participate. And California is weighing legislation that would let individual communities opt out.