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ICE's Mess in Massachusetts

Laura Rotolo,
ACLU of Massachusetts
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November 30, 2011

Editor’s Note: This is the third of five blogs in a series focusing on firsthand experiences with Secure Communities from across the country.

Over the last year, Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) has played out a miniature version of its catastrophic national strategy on Secure Communities in my home state of Massachusetts. Complete with misrepresentations, betrayals, last-minute visits by heads of departments, heated letters and a barrage of media stories, ICE’s plan to roll out this program in the Bay State has been nothing short of a disaster.

In Massachusetts, ICE proved to be an untrustworthy partner and has lost any legitimacy it may once have had. Here are the misrepresentations ICE told to our state:

  1. In 2006, ICE convinced the city of Boston to sign up as an S-Comm pilot project. It turns out that when ICE said “pilot” it meant “forever.” When Mayor Menino raised concerns and threatened to withdraw from the program, ICE said that was no longer a possibility. As the Mayor put it, “Boston took part in Secure Communities as a pilot project, with the understanding that only the most serious criminals would be affected and the belief that our feedback would lead to improvements in the program. It would be a further violation of the public trust if instead Secure Communities proves to be a knot that the federal government will not untie.’’
  2. When community groups started asking questions about Boston’s participation, ICE gave the city a set of statistics that purportedly proved that most of the people arrested and deported under the program were criminals. As it turns out, that was false. When a court ordered statistics to be released, they showed that more than half of those picked up in Boston had no criminal convictions whatsoever.
  3. ICE negotiated with Governor Patrick to sign on to a Memorandum of Understanding voluntarily entering the state into the program. When a huge community backlash led the Governor to reject the offer, ICE turned around and said it did not need the MOU after all, and would just implement the program with or without the state’s approval.
  4. ICE told Congress and the cities and towns it sold the program to that it was about safety. So far, the program has resulted in the deportation of over 140,000 people. Just over a quarter of those are offenders with serious criminal records. And when people on the ground, such as ICE’s own task force, raised legitimate concerns that the program is bad for public safety, ICE did nothing to change or end the program.
  5. ICE’s latest response is to ensure everyone that its agents will use “prosecutorial discretion” to deport only those high priority cases. But once again, this is not happening. A recent report by the immigration lawyers’ bar found that “most ICE offices have not changed their practices since the issuance of these new directives.” In the Boston area, immigration lawyers are reporting that even the most sympathetic cases are being denied discretion and going forward to deportation as planned.

If ICE won’t make a change, it’s time for Congress to take control back from this rogue agency. Millions of our taxpayer dollars are going to fund a program that, in the end, serves only to hurt communities. In Massachusetts, we will continue to fight this divisive and damaging program until the very end and we stand behind the other cities and states that do the same.

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