Gov. Patrick re-assures ethnic communities on immigration background checks
Massachusetts Governor, Deval Patrick, center, addresses an ethnic media press conference regarding why he opted to choose the option of not signing up with the secure communities program in Mass. The program had caused considerable concern among many ethnic immigrant communities in the commonweath. With the governor is Richard Chacon, (left) head of the Massachusetts Office for Refugees and Immigrants (MORI) and Curtis Wood, Undersecretary for Forensic Sciences .Pic by H.Maina/Ajabu Media
by Georgina Kariuki, Ajabu Africa News, posted June 13, 2011
BOSTON, Mass., _On Friday, June 3rd, Governor Deval Patrick instructed his Public Safety and Security Secretary, Mary Heffernan, to inform Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) that Massachusetts would not sign on to the deportation program known as Secure Communities (S-Comm).
In an ethnic media roundtable held at UMASS Boston on Tuesday June 7th, Governor Patrick discussed the details that led to his decision not to sign an agreement with ICE to implement S-Comm in Massachusetts.
He used the media round table also as an opportunity to highlight some of the successes that Massachusetts was having, such as having an economic recovery that was growing twice as fast as the national average, which was as a result of his administration’s pursuit of a deliberate strategy based on education, innovation and investment in structural infrastructure.
The Governor also noted that although the impact of tornadoes that hit Western Massachusetts was devastating, he was impressed by the extraordinary response that “ordinary people” showed to their neighbors.
Deval Patrick added that it was important for him to share news on the progress Massachusetts was making as well as share updates regarding the tornado hit areas, even as he briefed the ethnic media on his decision not to sign on Massachusetts to S-Comm.
‘We are not getting anything out of entering this agreement with ICE and we would actually be losing out since the relationships that are important to public safety are jeopardized under this agreement’ said Patrick in regard to his decision not to sign an MOA with ICE on S-Comm.
Furthermore, the Governor added that S-Comm was fracturing the relationships that many public safety officials had taken years to establish with communities and therefore increasing the risk of public safety rather than diminishing it.
Advocacy groups in Massachusetts, such as MIRA, have stated that victims of domestic violence in certain communities were reluctant to report crimes because of fear of S-Comm and this was a public safety risk.
S-Comm is a federal program whose stated objective is to focus “on the identification and removal of aliens who are convicted of a serious criminal offense and are subject to removal”, according to the letter Secretary Heffernan wrote to ICE.
The consensus among Massachusetts Public Safety and Security officials, as well as the Governor, is that S-Comm is not achieving their stated objective since majority of the people who have been deported under the program were regarded as non-criminal.
The racial justice online publication, Color Lines, indicated ICE records show that 54% of those deported between November 2008 and July 2010 from Boston “had never been convicted of any crime whatsoever”. The national implementation of S-Comm has demonstrated similar trends with the majority of those being deported having no or minor criminal offences.
S-Comm is in operation in 42 States and Massachusetts is one of three States which include Illinois and New York, to bow out of participating in S-Comm.
The indication not to participate by Governor Patrick, as well as Illinois and New York, appear to be at odds with what DHS’s Secretary Janet Napolitano has stipulated about S-Comm being mandatory across the U.S by 2013.
When Governor Patrick was asked whether his decision was at odds with Obama’s administration, the Governor stated that the practice of information sharing among federal agencies, which in essence was what S-Comm was about – sharing of information among the FBI and ICE, was ongoing and would remain as such regardless of what Massachusetts did.
He added that he was not against the removal of illegal serious criminals and that Massachusetts had been and would continue, forwarding fingerprints of criminals to the FBI. However, he added that he would not support policies that created fear and that he supported comprehensive immigration reform that would treat people who lived in the US like the residents they were and policies that would “advance the sense of community”.
Governor Patrick added that his decision was not a political one but one that took into account what was best for the whole Commonwealth of Massachusetts. And that that input of mayors, police officers and community members guided his decision.
Massachusetts held a series of community meetings across the state to evaluate the response to S-Comm and the Governor reported that there was overwhelming opposition, 4 to 1, to signing the MOA with ICE. This sentiment was evident in the Massachusetts African community as well where The African Council (T.A.C) held various community meetings and discussions regarding S-Comm and Africans overwhelmingly indicated their disapproval of the S-Comm policy and Massachusetts’s decision to sign on to it.
Richard Chacon, head of the Massachusetts Office for Refugees and Immigrants (MORI), also present at the media roundtable, indicated that S-Comm had clouded the efforts that were underway in Massachusetts to improve the relations and conditions for immigrants. He added that progress had been made toward implementing the New Americans Agenda and that news on S-Comm had overshadowed that progress.
One of the issues raised during the roundtable was that ethnic media houses faced challenges that made their capacity to operate effectively difficult and the Governor was asked what efforts his office had in place to address this. The Governor responded that he was aware that most ethnic media outlets had multiple challenges and that his office was committed to increasing access to information to these media houses.
The Governor concluded the roundtable discussion by reiterating that he was in support of a comprehensive immigration reform that would ensure and increase security and protection at US borders, put the people who were already in the US on a path to citizenship while treating them humanely.