Governor Patrick and his top advisors struggled with questions over whether to support a controversial federal program targeting illegal immigrants with criminal records, internal e-mails show, an issue so controversial that the governor himself took the unusual step of crafting his administration's statements to the press.
Underscoring the sensitivity, Patrick's administration waited four months to release the internal e-mails to FOX Undercover.
From the start, the federal program, which enlists state and local police to help identify illegal immigrants with criminal records, was a political minefield. Support it, and anger the immigrant community. Oppose it, and look soft on crime.
The governor was in no rush to do either.
"If we're going to be thoughtful about this we should look at the results of that pilot and make our judgment and go from there," Patrick said last September. Boston police had been using Secure Communities since 2004.
"It's rolled out in states all over the country. What exactly are you waiting for?" FOX Undercover reporter Mike Beaudet asked Patrick.
"You want me to say the same thing one more time?" Patrick replied. "No I'd like you to give us an answer. Do you support it or not?", Beaudet asked. "I just did. Thank you," Patrick replied.
Behind the scenes, the e-mails show Patrick's top advisors were equally as non-commital.
"(W)hat are the facts and our position on the Secure Communities program" wrote Kyle Sullivan, Gov. Patrick's communication advisor at the time, as he learns that FOX Undercover is about to report on the year-long delay in responding.
Instead of committing for or against the program, the governor's public safety advisors suggested saying there would be "ongoing conversations" with federal immigration authorities about Secure Communities. That phrase ultimately became part of the administration's final statement.
"The e-mails are fascinating because you get an inside look at the spin machine and how they're trying to impact you after your inquiry about the story," said Rob Gray, a Republican political consultant who was press secretary to former governors Bill Weld and Paul Cellucci.
Gray, who was advising Republican candidate for governor Charlie Baker when the Secure Communities story broke, says the Patrick administration just wanted the issue to go away.
"It was about a month out from election day. They were hoping that the story would burn out, they could get past the election and the threat of voters reacting to this and throwing the governor out of office," Gray said.
The issue didn't go away, though. Baker called a press conference about it. Other media outlets picked up the story.
As the story dragged on, the governor became personally involved in crafting his administration's message.
In one e-mail, the governor makes some minor edits to a statement, and adds that it "should be issued by the (executive office of public safety)", not by him.
Asked how unusual it was for the governor to craft a statement to that extent, Gray replied, "I haven't seen it at that level before. I mean he was in the midst of the campaign so clearly he wanted to be very specific, get involved, shape the administration's response and try and push it down to the public safety agency."
"Why do you think the governor didn't want that statement coming from him?" Beaudet asked.
"This was an issue that made him uncomfortable politically. He clearly disagreed with the policy to report these criminals up to immigration. He wanted to get it by election day where he could really do what he wants without fearing what other candidates or the voters might say about it," Gray replied.
Ultimately, Patrick said after the election that he would sign up for Secure Communities. But he hasn't signed up yet.
Public Safety Undersecretary John Grossman said in a statement that "we fully support the Commonwealth's vibrant immigrant community, and state agencies are currently engaged in dialogue with community leaders and public safety officials across the Commonwealth on this important issue."
"We expect to move forward once outreach has been completed, and we will continue to work closely with communities and stakeholders to promote understanding about this program and its implementation, and to share any concerns that are raised with federal officials," Grossman's statement said.