THIS STORY HAS BEEN FORMATTED FOR EASY PRINTING
Adrian Walker

Let’s deport this program

By Adrian Walker
Globe Columnist / July 4, 2011

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Ed Davis, our city’s police commissioner, isn’t in the habit of asking for my advice. But I’m going to offer some anyway.

You shouldn’t threaten to get out of Secure Communities, the federal program that claims to weed out criminals who are in the country illegally. You should withdraw from it. Like tomorrow, and that’s only because today is a holiday.

A story in the Sunday Globe by Maria Sacchetti detailed three cases in which illegal immigrants faced deportation after minor traffic incidents. The most shocking involved a young Brazilian woman named Lizandra DeMoura, who was arrested in Charlestown for driving without a license. Of course, someone who is here illegally can’t get a license.

But deportation seems like overkill. Even anti-immigration zealots admit that people like DeMoura are not the targets of this policy. The idea was to rid the country of serious criminals, not people who roll through a stop sign and have never been in trouble before.

Under the program, local law enforcement officials share fingerprints and other information with federal immigration authorities, who determine whether people who have been arrested are in the country illegally and subject to deportation. In theory, Secure Communities serves a laudable purpose: ridding the community of criminals who shouldn’t be here. And at times, it has done that.

But while the program is supposed to be aimed at dangerous offenders, DeMoura’s case and others make it clear that the threat of deportation is being applied much more broadly, and that minor offenders are being caught and deported along with the serious criminals.

Davis has asked that the noncriminal cases be reviewed by the feds, to see if a bit of leniency is in order. He noted that unnecessary deportation will only make all immigrants wary of law enforcement. That’s a legitimate concern. But he should go further and bail out of this program.

In its confusion, the Secure Communities program reflects our immigration policy in general. As a nation we can’t figure out what to do about the estimated 11 million illegal immigrants in the country. We can’t decide whether we want to deport them, whether we want to build a fence around Texas, or whether people who give them jobs should be subject to prosecution. At the same time, we almost have consensus that illegal immigrants should be able to go to college or to an emergency room. Talk about mixed signals.

The subject of what to do with our illegal guests has gotten momentum lately. In an interesting article in The New York Times Magazine, a Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist named Jose Antonio Vargas revealed that he has pursued his decadelong career in journalism as an illegal immigrant. He came forward, he wrote, because he wanted to break down stereotypes about who such immigrants are, and he wanted to change the direction of the conversation about illegal immigration.

Curiously the piece was originally written for his old paper, The Washington Post, which decided not to run it. Perhaps the paper of Bob Woodward and Carl Bernstein thought better of publicly admitting that it has unwittingly employed an illegal immigrant.

Vargas clearly isn’t about to get deported; he’s all over the media, embroiled in the discussion he hoped to spark. Perhaps putting a face on illegal immigration will make for a more civil and humane debate. I don’t know. I’m sure that he’s lucky he’s never been pulled over in Boston.

He’s doing a lot better than DeMoura, who faces deportation to a country she left as a small child and whose language she doesn’t speak. Kicking her out of the country isn’t going to make anybody one iota safer, which I always thought was the point of law enforcement.

Why belong to a Secure Communities program if it isn’t going to make our communities more secure?

Adrian Walker is a Globe columnist. He can be reached at walker@globe.com.