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Illegal immigrant in murder case had prior arrest

By Maria Sacchetti
Globe Staff / September 28, 2011

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Scituate police arrested an illegal immigrant from Brazil for motor-vehicle violations three months before he allegedly stabbed his former girlfriend to death in a brutal attack this week, reigniting debate over whether Massachusetts should participate in the federal Secure Communities program.

Police arrested Marcelo Almeida, a 41-year-old laborer, on June 19 on charges of operating without a license and other charges after the black Nissan Maxima he was driving almost collided head on with a police car, according to documents from Hingham District Court. He was later found guilty of unlicensed driving and responsible for other charges. Almeida paid a fine and was released.

But US Immigration and Customs Enforcement had not heard of him until Monday, when he allegedly stabbed 24-year-old Patricia Frois to death in a Marshfield apartment building and questions emerged about whether Immigration and Customs had arrested him earlier. Almeida, who also suffered injuries, was in South Shore Hospital last night pending arraignment on murder charges.

Yesterday, immigration officials placed a detainer on Almeida and said that the Secure Communities program would have automatically checked his fingerprints and flagged him for possible deportation.

Secure Communities, a federal program intended to identify illegal immigrants if they are arrested by local law enforcement, has been a hot-button issue in Massachusetts, where Governor Deval Patrick has opposed it. Critics say the program is deporting immigrants with no criminal records and could lead to ethnic profiling. Supporters believe it is a valuable tool to detect dangerous illegal immigrants.

“Though Mr. Almedia was previously encountered by local law enforcement in Scituate, Mass., ICE was never notified of his arrest or his unlawful presence in the United States,’’ said agency spokesman Ross Feinstein.

Even without Secure Communities, police could have contacted the agency through the 24-hour Law Enforcement Support Center to check Almeida’s identity or contacted immigration officers in Massachusetts - but they did not, officials said.

When Scituate police stopped Almeida in June, the officer determined that Almeida was born in Brazil and did not have a valid entry stamp in his Brazilian passport. Police also discovered that he had a citation from Pembroke police for driving without a license, in October 2010, court documents said.

This week, after Frois’s death, the Plymouth district attorney’s office said Almeida had two passports, and one had a visa number that had been issued to a Kuwaiti woman in Beirut in 2003.

Scituate Police Chief Brian E. Stewart declined to comment yesterday, referring questions to Hingham District Court.

Senator Richard Moore, Democrat of Uxbridge, yesterday called Frois’s death another example of how the federal Secure Communities program might have helped deter a crime.

But advocates for immigrants doubted that the agency would have acted to deport Almeida for minor driving charges since the agency’s priority is to deport serious criminals.

Maria Sacchetti can be reached at msacchetti@globe.com. Follow her on Twitter at @mariasacchetti.