Boston mayor threatens to quit Secure Communities
In an abrupt turnaround, Mayor Thomas M. Menino has said he will withdraw Boston police from the federal Secure Communities program unless US federal immigration officials limit their deportation efforts to only those immigrants who have committed serious crimes.
In a letter to be delivered today to the Department of Homeland Security’s Secure Communities task force, Menino said the program, which requires that fingerprints from arrests be cross-referenced with federal immigration databases, has caused a breakdown of relations between residents and law enforcement officials in Boston’s immigrant communities. The cross-referencing means that people picked up for relatively minor crimes can face deportation, along with the more serious criminals the program was meant to target.
“As operated now, Secure Communities is diminishing trust, an essential part of the neighborhood fabric and a vital public safety tool,’’ Menino wrote.
“Secure Communities must change substantially or be scrapped,’’ he wrote.
Boston Police Commissioner Edward F. Davis will visit the Secure Communities task force in Washington, D.C., this morning to deliver the letter and make a statement outlining his and Menino’s concerns about the program, according to police spokeswoman Elaine Driscoll.
Boston piloted Secure Communities in 2006, and since the program’s official launch in 2008, it has expanded to cities and towns in more than 40 states.
Just over one month ago, Menino and Davis defended the controversial initiative after Governor Deval Patrick refused to expand the program to State Police.
At the time, Boston officials said they felt that Secure Communities was helping to fight crime – critical in a city that has been besieged by drug and gun violence.But Menino at that time also ordered Davis to review his files to ensure that the program was targeting criminals.
On Friday, Menino met with law enforcement officials and the heads of immigrant advocacy groups in a roundtable discussion to learn more about how the program was affecting local immigrant communities. Many of those at the meeting said the program has failed to make streets safer because it discourages immigrants from reporting crimes or talking to police for fear of deportation.
In his letter, Menino called on the Secure Communities task force to demonstrate more transparency in how it decides whose fingerprints are shared with US Immigration and Customs Enforcement. The Department of Homeland Security must establish a “partition’’ that separates immigrants charged in felony crimes from those arrested on misdemeanors, he argued.
Otherwise, he said, Boston will no longer participate in the the program.