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While RI is in Immigration Chaos: the Rest of New England Moves Forward

Saturday, February 26, 2011


While Rhode Island’s public officials engage in verbal sparring matches over a new federal crime fighting program, the rest of New England remains indifferent when it comes to the Secure Communities program.

Providence made headlines this week after Public Safety Commissioner Steven Pare sent a letter to the Department of Homeland Security asking whether the city could opt-out of the Secure Communities program headed up by the Homeland Security and the Bureau of Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE).

On Wednesday, State Police Superintendent Col. Brendan Doherty said Providence’s stance “defies logic” and said he was disappointed with the capital city.

Secure Communities would allow local law enforcement to run the fingerprints of anyone arrested against both FBI criminal history records as well as immigration records. By 2013, the Homeland Security and ICE want to be using the program to run fingerprints in every jail in the country.

Providence Investigating

It is unclear whether Providence can opt-out of the program. Secure Communities is an agreement between the Homeland Security and the states, but there is some question about the status of cities or towns within any state participating in the program. As of the beginning of February, 38 states, including Rhode Island, had opted-in to the program.

Although Secure Communities was originally advertised as voluntary, the DHS hopes to have all states at least supporting the program by the end of the year. Meanwhile, Providence remains unclear if it is possible to opt-out of the initiative.

“We don't know yet,” Communication Director Melissa Withers wrote in an e-mail to GoLocalProv. “This is what we're investigating.”

We’re Busy Enough

In 2008, the city of Hartford passed an ordinance that stopped police officers from asking people about their immigration status. The idea was to prevent anyone from being detained based on an immigration warrant and to make residents more willing to report crime without fear of having their status checked.

Hartford Police Public Information Officer Nancy Mulroy said immigration enforcement is not something that should be handled at the local level.

“Over the past several years, our stance has been that we’re busy enough doing our own job,” Mulroy said. “Our first priority is local laws and immigration is not part of our charges.”

Wait-and-See Approach

While spokespeople for the police departments in Springfield and Bridgeport were unfamiliar with Secure Communities at all -let alone the controversy swirling in Rhode Island- Brendan Mahoney, Executive Assistant to Hartford City Council Minority Leader Luis Cotto, said the city has been trying to look into whether it was even possible to opt-out of the program.

“Fairfield Country is the only county in Connecticut using Secure Communities,” Mahoney said. “We’ve been trying to figure out if we could [opt-out].”

Mahoney said the language from the Homeland Security has been mixed regarding whether cities can choose to participate in the initiative. He noted that both Santa Clara and San Francisco also attempted to opt-out, but said Hartford would likely wait to see what other cities do before moving forward with Secure Communities.

Educating The Community
Boston was one of the first cities to publicly support the Homeland Security’s program. Elaine Driscoll, a spokeswoman for Police Commissioner Edward Davis, said the department has been busy explaining to program to members of the community.

“We are a part of Secure Communities and we have made a specific effort to educate the community to communicate what the initiative is,” Driscoll said.

Driscoll said the program is meant to enhance local law enforcement and that Commissioner Davis has made it clear he will not allow it to be abused. She said the Secure Communities is intended to identify violent criminals, not target any group of people. 


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