EVEN IN Massachusetts, Governor Deval Patrick sounds out of touch on illegal immigration.
Requiring local police to send fingerprints of arrested suspects to the FBI and immigration officials is more than a “publicity stunt,’’ as Patrick suggests. It’s a way to catch bad guys who also happen to be in this country illegally. After all the emotionally draining testimonials on the 10th anniversary of the 9/11 terrorist attacks, it’s jarring to hear Patrick dismiss information-sharing between federal agencies as sheer gimmickry.
Patrick’s ultra-liberal response reflects one side of a stubborn and ever-polarizing national debate. The dewy-eyed, pro-immigrant crowd sees Horatio Alger potential in every “undocumented’’ visitor. In contrast, the hardcore “what part of ‘illegal’ don’t you understand?’ crowd believes that every such “alien’’ deserves the boot.
But there’s a group in the middle. It still gets weepy over the Statue of Liberty and considers it impractical and heartless to throw out 11 million people who are estimated to be living and working here illegally. But citizens in this group also don’t want to get run down by an illegal immigrant who is driving drunk without a license - for the sixth time.
From the governor’s perspective, allowing that driver’s fingerprints to be sent to immigration officials is a threat to the sensibilities of a community that in Massachusetts includes President Obama’s uncle and aunt. On those grounds, Patrick opposes Secure Communities, a federal program intended to identify illegal immigrants if they are arrested by local law enforcement. It calls for local police to send fingerprints of arrested suspects to the FBI and Immigration and Custom Enforcement. Like other critics, Patrick complains that the program leads to the deportation of immigrants with no criminal records and worries about ethnic profiling.
Secure Communities does have problems, as pointed out by a recent task force report that was delivered to the Department of Homeland Security. The task force said the program’s roll-out was confusing and swept up some people who committed only minor offenses. It should be reintroduced with reforms, the report stated.
Even so, the task force concluded that sharing fingerprints and other information can’t be jettisoned, said Chuck Wexler, the task force chairman.
“In the post 9/11 world we live in, one of the lessons learned was that too many federal agencies weren’t talking to one another. Information-sharing is now part of what is expected and not optional’’ said Wexler.
The task force recommended that illegal immigrants with minor traffic offenses be exempted from deportation proceedings. However, the report also said that exemptions should not include driving under the influence, hit-and-run, reckless driving resulting in injury to persons, or other violations that have the potential of causing serious injury or harm to the public.
The task force also concluded that withholding fingerprints could hurt public safety, “because some individuals arrested for low-level offenses may have serious criminal histories or outstanding warrants for serious crimes. . .’’
Like others, Wexler believes comprehensive immigration reform is necessary. But that won’t happen in a presidential election year.
Meanwhile, Massachusetts is learning the hard way about serious threats from bad guys who are also illegal immigrants. In February, when an illegal immigrant was accused of murdering a Brockton woman and her baby, it turned out the suspect had numerous arrests in Brockton and New York under different aliases. In April, an illegal immigrant who was arrested during a routine traffic stop turned out to have 12 aliases and 10 outstanding warrants for crimes including drug distribution, rape, and kidnapping.
In August, an illegal immigrant from Ecuador with a record of traffic violations, was accused of dragging a 23-year-old Milford motorcyclist to his death. Police said the suspect was driving while intoxicated.
Just this week, Eduardo Alementa Torres was arrested on his sixth drunken driving charge. Deported previously, he was back in the country. In another fresh case, an illegal immigrant from Brazil was arrested for allegedly stabbing his ex-girlfriend to death. He had previously been arrested on charges of operating without a license, after the car he was driving almost collided head-on with a police car.
That’s reality in Massachusetts. In each case, it would have been better to know it sooner rather than later.
Joan Vennochi can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.