BOSTON (CBS) – A Statehouse news conference by sheriffs calling for tougher enforcement of immigration laws ended abruptly on Wednesday after pro-immigrant activists entered the room to protest.
Initially, the protesters carrying signs were silent while reporters asked the sheriffs questions. Then, after several minutes, they began shouting to the elected officials to ask them to let their voices be heard. At that point, state lawmakers wrapped up the press conference. State police were called in, but there were no arrests.
Before the protests, Worcester Country Sheriff Lew Evangelidis, Bristol County Sheriff Thomas Hodgson, and Plymouth County Sheriff Joseph McDonald announced they will apply to be apart of 287G, where they can send information on inmates they are housing to ICE.
WBZ NewsRadio 1030′s Kim Tunnicliffe reports
The 287G program trains local law enforcement to act as immigration officials. It allows them to send information about a person to immigration officials. Opponents fear this will lead to more profiling because the officials will ID people too interview.
The sheriffs said that in the program, once they send information about inmates to ICE, that agency can let the sheriffs’ departments know if they should be detained. They said the same criminal process as is currently in place will then be followed.
The sheriffs said they hoped to set up an agreement after a meeting with Homeland Security officials in Washington DC. They added that they traveled to the nation’s capital for more tools because they are frustrated that Massachusetts is not currently enrolled in the program.
GOV. PATRICK’S OPPOSITION
On the other hand, the Patrick Administration said the sheriffs could have applied to the program on their own years ago, and are making it a public issue now to generate political support. They said the Department of Corrections has been sharing conviction information this way for years in the prison system. The sheriffs operate the county jails.
The Secure Communities program, which will be implemented across the entire nation by 2013, is a federal program that shares fingerprints submitted to the FBI with ICE. Currently, Massachusetts sends all fingerprints to State Police, and then they are all forwarded to the FBI.
Gov. Deval Patrick said nothing is stopping officials from implementing the program immediately because the feds already have the fingerprints in their possession.
Gov. Patrick has previously said he opposed the Secure Communities program, in part because he believes it will break down the communication between the immigrant community and law enforcement. Several police chiefs, including Chelsea, also oppose the program.
Now, Senator Scott Brown is calling on DHS Secretary Janet Napolitano to speed up the process to allow Massachusetts to join the Secure Communities Program. WBZ-TV asked the Department of Homeland Security if this can be facilitated, and a spokesman said Secure Communities is a federal to federal program and there is nothing a state can do to speed up the process.
Boston is the only community in the state that currently is part of Secure Communities. It started as a pilot program in 2007.
A spokesperson for the Department of Safety says one of the Sheriffs criticizing Governor Patrick is behind the times in terms of his own efforts to know who’s in his care. They say Plymouth County Sheriff Joseph McDonald has been using antiquated equipment to fingerprint inmates.
Terrel Harris tells us, “Sheriff McDonald does not electronically submit fingerprints to the state. He mails fingerprint cards once a week that are scanned into the state system by MSP and sent to the FBI. Because he doesn’t send prints electronically, he receives no response from the FBI on his national background check.”
More than 2,900 illegal immigrants were arrested across the U.S. Wednesday in a series of raids.
In New England, though, the 111 illegal aliens taken into custody had prior criminal convictions, including 64 aliens who had multiple criminal convictions.
Sixty-three were arrested in Massachusetts cities and towns, including 18 in Boston alone.
RECENT INCIDENTS INVOLVING ILLEGAL IMMIGRANTS
The issue of cracking down on illegal immigrants who commit crimes has received renewed attention following the death of 23-year-old Matthew Denice.
He was run down by an illegal immigrant who was allegedly driving drunk.
According to the Department of Safety, that driver had been arrested in the past: in 2007, in Uxbridge his fingerprints were sent to the state and forwarded to the FBI. However, in 2008 when he was arrested in Milford, safety officials say Milford Police never sent the state his fingerprints.