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Secure Communities coming to Massachusetts

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UNDERCOVER - Secure Communities, the controversial federal program that targets illegal immigrants with criminal records, is coming to Massachusetts a week from today, FOX Undercover has confirmed.

The US Department of Homeland Security notified law enforcement officials across Massachusetts today that Secure Communities will be activated on May 15.
      

The goal of the program is to identify and deport illegal immigrants with serious criminal records, but it is highly controversial because it uses local police to some extent to help enforce federal immigration laws.
         
It does so by automatically sharing the fingerprints of everyone arrested locally with federal immigration officials, who can then determine if the person arrested is here legally or is otherwise deportable.

The controversy over the program became especially heated in Massachusetts after Gov. Deval Patrick refused to agree to the program, saying it would lead to racial profiling by police and would interfere in the relationships between local police and the immigrant community in their city or town. But Patrick concedes that the program will take effect with or without his support.

One local supporter of Secure Communities, Worcester Sheriff Lew Evangelidis, called it "tremendous news for public safety and the citizens of Massachusetts."

"I firmly believe this is going to help identify criminal aliens and get them off our streets before additional harm occurs," he told FOX Undercover.      

Another sheriff who pushed for the program, Bristol County Sheriff Thomas Hodgson, told FOX Undercover, "This is a major victory for the law enforcement community and public safety overall in Massachusetts, as well as it is for of course any of the citizens of Massachusetts. Going forward, there's less likelihood that they'd be victimized by illegal immigrants who are committing illegal acts in the community. We now have the absolute best tools available to us to get these people off the street before they victimize more people."       

Secure Communities has been a political hot potato in Massachusetts ever since ICE asked Gov. Patrick's administration to sign on to the program. Patrick's administration delayed signing it for a year until FOX Undercover reported on the delay, which sparked an election-year battle during Patrick's re-election campaign.

Patrick ultimately held a series of hearings around the state about the program and, after saying he was going to sign onto the agreement, he then decided against doing so. But ICE also changed its position, saying it didn't need states to agree to activate the program.         

Patrick's Secretary of Public Safety, Mary Beth Heffernan, issued a statement saying, "Implementation of the program will have no practical effect on how we handle fingerprints and information sharing here. 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."
           
The two candidates in the race for U.S. Senate are also weighing in.

Sen. Scott Brown, the Republican incumbent who has advocated for Secure Communities, said in a statement, "The people of Massachusetts will finally have the protection they deserve from violent criminals who have entered our country illegally. This is an important tool in keeping our citizens safe and giving our law enforcement officials, especially the sheriffs, the tools and resources they need to do their jobs. I have always supported legal immigration, but we are a nation of laws, and we must address the problems caused by illegal immigration. Secure Communities is an important step in that direction."

His Democratic opponent, Elizabeth Warren, issued a statement saying, "Elizabeth supports efforts to take dangerous and violent criminals off our street.  She understands that some law enforcement in Massachusetts and across the country have expressed concerns that the program divides police and communities, and believes we need to continue to work to improve the program as it is being implemented so that it actually does make our communities safer."
          
In an email sent to Massachusetts law enforcement agencies, ICE pointed out that "(Secure Communities) does not authorize local law enforcement agencies to enforce immigration law or task them with any additional responsibilities.  In fact, following the activation of Secure Communities in the new jurisdictions, it is important that law enforcement agencies there enforce criminal law in exactly the same manner as they did before Secure Communities."

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