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Group to challenge Boston immigration checks

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An immigrant advocacy group announced Monday that they are starting a campaign against the Boston Police Department’s participation in a federal program that automatically checks the immigration status of people who are arrested.

Somerville-based Centro Presente, a group critical of the federal program knows as “Secure Communities,” said its campaign is designed to educate immigrants and other Massachusetts police departments about a program they say discourages all immigrants, regardless of their status, from cooperating with police.

Patricia Montes, the group’s executive director, said the campaign will involve Spanish radio shows, community forums, and testimonies from immigrants who she said have been wrongfully detained by police.

“There’s a lot of education that needs to go on in the community,” said Montes, who is organizing a forum on the issue at Centro Presente’s Somerville’s offices Tuesday with American Civil Liberties Union of Massachusetts and the American Friends Service Committee Project Voice.

But Boston police said the program so far has helped officers arrest a number of suspects involved in criminal activity and does not seek to enforce federal immigration laws.

The federal program allows arrestees’ fingerprint information to be checked against FBI criminal history records and immigration records kept by the Department of Homeland Security.

According to Immigration and Customs Enforcement, the program helped remove around 50 level-1 offenders – those convicted of homicide, rape, drug trafficking or other serious crimes – from the Boston area between November 2008 and July 2010.

The agency said hundreds of jurisdictions in 29 states have implemented the program so far and it wants to have it in every jail in the country by 2013.

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