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Despite Local Opposition, Secure Communities To Expand

BOSTON — Despite opposition from Gov. Deval Patrick and Boston Mayor Thomas Menino, Secure Communities, a controversial federal immigration program, will expand next week in Massachusetts.

Once the program is put into place, if you are arrested and fingerprinted, your fingerprints will automatically be forwarded to Immigration and Customs Enforcement. Currently, fingerprints are only entered into the FBI’s database.

“Implementation of the program will have no practical effect on how we handle fingerprints and information sharing here,” said Terrell Harris, a spokesman for Massachusetts’ Executive Office of Public Safety.

“We already send all fingerprints to the federal government and have been doing so for years. That practice will continue so we can protect public safety and meet our local law enforcement needs.”

But ask some sheriffs and they say sharing information will enhance their ability to catch criminals, especially criminals who are in the country illegally.

States like Texas started using the program in 2008 and the plan has been to go nationwide by next year.

Bristol County Sheriff Thomas Hodgson has lobbied the feds for more than a year to activate Secure Communities throughout Massachusetts.

“We’re extremely happy,” Hodgson said. “This is a great win for the law enforcement community in Massachusetts, as well as the citizens of Massachusetts.”

Hodgson says the program will enable federal agents to immediately identify illegal immigrants in his Bristol County jail. He says it will also help his department determine the true identity of immigrants who use aliases.

But not all law enforcement officials support the program as strongly.

After testing the system for several years, Boston Police Commissioner Ed Davis complained to federal officials that too many non-criminals had been deported as a result.

Immigrant advocates agree.

“In reality, it’s a giant dragnet,” said Lauren Rotolo, an attorney with the American Civil Liberties Union of Massachusetts. “It catches people who have really no criminal record whatsoever and have simply overstayed a visa or are in some other violation of civil immigration law.”

The federal government has acknowledged the program had overstepped its stated purpose — to deport the most dangerous criminals.

The Obama administration tried to redirect agents to focus on — what it considered priority deportations. But the union representing ICE agents disagrees with the policy and a growing rift between agents and the administration has stopped that change from taking hold.

Earlier:

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