Sen. Brown presses Janet Napolitano on Secure Communities

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By Kyle Cheney

State House News Service

BOSTON — U.S. Sen. Scott Brown urged the country’s top Homeland Security official yesterday to bypass a skeptical Gov. Deval Patrick and immediately implement Secure Communities — a federal program to identify and deport certain illegal immigrants — in Massachusetts, while a Republican sheriff suggested state government’s attitude toward illegal immigration is creating “fertile ground” for another 9/11-style attack.

Sting nets criminal aliens/3

In a letter to U.S. Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano, Brown worried that the governor’s “public opposition to the Secure Communities program will cause the full activation of Massachusetts to be a ‘low priority’ for U.S. Immigrations and Customs Enforcement.”

“I respectfully request that you proceed with the full activation of Massachusetts without the Governor’s support,” Brown wrote. “My constituents have made it abundantly clear to me that they view Secure Communities as an important public-safety tool that could have prevented deadly incidents that have rocked their communities.”

Patrick aides say his position on the program has no bearing on the state’s timeline for being included in Secure Communities, which the Department of Homeland Security has insisted will be deployed in every state by 2013. A Homeland Security official told the News Service that Patrick’s resistance “does not” play a role in the agency’s decision-making.

“Because Secure Communities is a federal to federal information-sharing program, the decision on when and where to implement is solely the federal government’s decision to make and is based on the availability of resources,” said the official.

States routinely share fingerprint information of arrestees with the FBI, and Massachusetts public-safety officials say they provide all fingerprints collected by state and municipal police to the agency. Under Secure Communities, the FBI automatically shares those prints with ICE and checks for immigration violators. Secure Communities is currently active in about 1,500 of the country’s 3,000 law-enforcement districts.

The program has elicited protests from immigrant advocates, who say it encourages profiling and targets low-level offenders, rather than illegal immigrants who commit serious crimes.

Although ICE has acknowledged making confusing statements in the past about whether states have the option to opt out of the program, the agency informed all 50 governors in August that it intends to activate the program in all states unilaterally by 2013.

During a press conference at the Statehouse attended by 15 Republican lawmakers and three Republican sheriffs, a Democratic state senator and an aide to Brown, the sheriffs said they had “no question” that Patrick’s resistance to Secure Communities had resulted in ICE delaying its implementation in Massachusetts, even as a string of violent crimes committed by illegal immigrants have generated outrage.

“They’re not looking to go into communities where they’re going to get all kinds of resistance,” said Bristol County Sheriff Thomas Hodgson, a Republican who has held the post since 1997.

Hodgson drew a comparison between illegal immigrants and terrorists, suggesting that they look to embed themselves in states where they are less likely to get the attention of law enforcement and arguing that Massachusetts policies could lead to a repeat of the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11, 2001.

“When you have a place to go, like most criminals they’re looking at a place they’re not going to be noticed, and Massachusetts is saying ‘Come on in, we’re not worried about your status,’ then you know what, we’re setting up fertile ground to repeat what happened right out of a Boston airport back in 2001,” he said.