Two Massachusetts law enforcement agencies – the Framingham police and the Barnstable County sheriff’s department – are no longer enrolled in a controversial program that let them enforce federal immigration laws.
The program had stirred anger and fear among advocates for immigrants who said it would terrify immigrants and deter them from reporting crimes.
Framingham Chief Steven Carl said he withdrew from the program today because federal officials pressured the department to broaden its enforcement. He said he signed up two years ago exclusively to tap into federal databases to investigate crime, and balked when federal officials wanted him to detain immigrants, transport them and even testify in immigration court.
Carl said that could hurt the police’s relationship in the community, where 26 percent are immigrants.
“It doesn’t benefit the police department to engage in deportation and immigration enforcement,” Carl said today. “We’re done. I told them to come get the computers.”
Barnstable County Sheriff James Cummings said federal officials suspended their involvement in the program a few months ago, before it ever got off the ground.
“They told us that they were going in a different direction,” Cummings said of federal officials. “They said they weren’t going to operate the program [here] any longer. They may be back sometime in the future.”
In Massachusetts, only the state's Department of Corrections is still enrolled in the program, known as 287(g) for the section of federal law that authorized it.
Department of Homeland Security officials were not immediately available for comment today. US Immigration and Customs Enforcement, which reports to the department, directly oversees the program.
In July, the Obama administration streamlined the program to require that local law enforcement agencies focus on the federal government’s main priority -- serious crimes, such as drug smuggling and murder.
The Government Accountability Office had criticized the program in January because some law enforcement agencies were processing immigrants for minor offenses, such as speeding.
In Framingham, Carl said the program allowed the police to tap into federal immigration databases to investigate crime in the city, such as gangs, drugs and domestic violence. Still, out of thousands of arrests last year, the program resulted in perhaps two or three arrests, he said.
In Barnstable, Cummings said he sent 12 sheriff’s deputies for federal training to learn how to detain immigrants.
Cummings said the area in his jurisdiction needs special powers less now because immigration appears to have decreased, and because the sheriff’s department has suffered budget cuts and has fewer officers to devote to it.
Still, he said he was disappointed that the program never got off the ground there.
“With our budget cuts and everything else it wasn’t a great thing,” he said. “But I did spend a lot of time and effort getting these guys trained and then they never got to use their training."
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