Feds to activate Secure Communities

Federal immigration officials will activate the controversial Secure Communities program statewide in Massachusetts on May 15, despite strong opposition from Governor Deval Patrick and advocacy groups, according to local law enforcement officials who were notified of the launch today.

The launch—a week from today, when the program will also be activated in New York— follows several high-profile motor-vehicle accidents involving illegal immigrants that intensified calls to expand the fingerprint-matching program statewide. Last week, a Cape Cod florist died after being struck by an immigrant who allegedly overstayed her visa. Last year, Matthew Denice of Milford was struck and killed by an illegal immigrant, who was arrested and charged with drunk driving.

Until now, Boston has been the only Massachusetts city involved in the program. Secure Communities, which began in 2008, electronically checks the fingerprints of everyone arrested and booked by state and local police against FBI and immigration databases, allowing federal immigration officials to seek to detain illegal immigrants for possible deportation.

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Bristol County Sheriff Thomas Hodgson hailed US Immigration and Customs Enforcement’s decision to launch the program, which had been expected in Massachusetts by the end of 2013. Some local officials had pushed for it sooner, saying it would help them fight crime.

“This isn’t just a big victory for law enforcement,” he said. “This is a big victory for the families who have lost loved ones.”

Hodgson and others have been pressing Patrick to drop his opposition to the program, which, they said, delayed its implementation in Massachusetts.

Governor Deval Patrick and others had criticized Secure Communities for deporting significant numbers of immigrants who had not been convicted of any crime. But others, including the Boston police, which piloted the program before it started to expand nationwide in 2008, say the program is a valuable crimefighting tool.