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Boston Police Defend Status Checks

Boston Globe via YellowBrix

September 22, 2010

BOSTON, MA – Boston Police Commissioner Edward F. Davis, a strong critic of using police to enforce immigration laws, yesterday defended the city’s participation in a controversial federal program that automatically checks the immigration status of everyone arrested.

The goal of the controversial program, called Secure Communities, is to identify dangerous criminals and turn them over to the US Bureau of Immigration and Customs Enforcement for eventual deportation.

Advocates warn that noncriminals are being swept up at the same time.

But Davis said his staff reviewed the list of people caught through the program over the past two years and determined that all of those turned over to immigration officials met the goal of removing gang members and other criminals from the streets.

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Edward F. Davis, the Boston police commissioner, said the program helps get criminals off the city’s streets.

“We’ve looked into each and every one of the cases, and we’re satisfied that the promise we made to the community still stands,’’ said Davis yesterday in his first interview on the matter. “We’ve made clear that if ICE begins to deport people who are simply being picked up for traffic violations and overstaying their visas, then we’re not going to participate in the program.’’

Many advocates for immigrants, however, say the program will deter immigrants from reporting crimes because they fear police.

“How can the Boston police say that this is going to give us more security?’’ said Patricia Montes, executive director of Centro Presente, an area nonprofit. “People are going to be afraid to report crimes. That means that crime will be occurring, and immigrants will be afraid to go to the police.’’

The controversy is unexpected in a city that is widely viewed as friendly to all immigrants and where 27.5 percent of the residents are foreign born.

Earlier this year the City Council passed a resolution boycotting Arizona because of its new immigration law.

In one of his first acts as commissioner in 2006, Davis decried a plan by Governor Mitt Romney to have State Police help enforce immigration law, saying that “expanding immigration enforcement to local police would have an overall negative effect on the department’s continued efforts to enhance community trust.’’

Federal statistics indicate that the Boston program has snared both violent and nonviolent offenders.

Of the 230 people turned over to ICE since the program began in 2008, nearly half had been convicted of crimes: 53 were violent offenders, such as murderers, rapists, and those who pose a threat to national security; 32 had committed a felony such as property crime or extortion; and 20 had multiple misdemeanor convictions, including minor drug offenses and disorderly conduct.

The remainder had been arrested for noncriminal immigration violations. Almost half have been deported.

But Davis said they were all involved in criminal activity, including those with criminal records from other states.

Advocates for immigrants, many of whom were unaware of the program until a WBUR report last month, are going on the offensive to protest the program.

Centro Presente, working with the ACLU of Massachusetts, will be rolling out educational seminars next month and publicizing the program on Spanish and Portuguese language radio stations.

Heloisa Galvao, head of the Brazilian Women’s Group in Allston, said a woman came to her recently after her husband was placed in deportation proceedings after being stopped by the Boston police. His family and those helping him could not figure out why. Now, she said, she believes it was because of Secure Communities.

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