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Mass. Police To Join Immigration Checks Program

Massachusetts State Police are about to start participating in a federal program that automatically checks the immigration status of people who are arrested.

In a statement, Public Safety Secretary Mary Beth Heffernan said the state will formally join a program called Secure Communities after months of deliberating by state officials.

The Immigration and Customs Enforcement program allows arrestees' fingerprint information to be checked against FBI criminal history records and biometrics-based immigration records kept by the Department of Homeland Security. If it turns out that the arrested person is here illegally, the feds can ask state police to hold that person.

Secure Communities has drawn fire from some immigrant advocacy groups who say the program discourages legal and illegal immigrants from cooperating with police.

Secure Communities has drawn fire from some immigrant advocacy groups who say the program discourages legal and illegal immigrants from cooperating with police.

Frank Soults, of the Massachusetts Immigrant and Refugees Advocacy Coalition, says he's stunned the Patrick administration has joined the program.

"It could strain relations between the police and local communities," Soults said. "With Secure Communities, it's not just dangerous criminals who are being deported because of this.

"Other states have been successfully resisting, as have municipalities and various countries. There's no need to rush into it right now, especially since (Gov. Deval Patrick) worked so hard to earn the trust of immigrant voters."

The administration had shown some reluctance to join the program. Heffernan said in a statement that program is mandatory for all communities in the future.

"We will also work closely with all communities to monitor the implementation and share with federal officials any concerns that are raised," Heffernan wrote.

The agency wants to have the program in every jail by 2013. ICE said hundreds of jurisdictions around the country have implemented the program so far, including Boston police.

Since ICE began the program in October 2008, federal officials say immigration officers have deported more than 50,600 immigrants convicted of various crimes.

WBUR's Bianca Vazquez contributed reporting.

This program aired on December 17, 2010. The audio for this program is not available.

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