A heated battle between immigrant advocates and Tea Party supporters
erupted yesterday in Chelsea
High School's auditorium,
as activists gathered to protest the controversial Secure Communities, a federal
program that uses data from local law enforcement agencies to track down
Under the Secure Communities program -- which bills itself
as "A Modernized Approach to Identifying and Removing Criminal Aliens" -- local
police share the fingerprints of everyone they arrest with the Department of
Justice and the Department of Homeland Security. The program is supposed to
help Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) to deport illegals who have
committed serious crimes, like murder or kidnapping, or who have long records
of criminal behavior.
was one of the cities which participated in a pilot version of Secure
Communities, quietly initiated in 2006; and according to ICE, there are plans for
the program "to reach complete nationwide deployment by 2013." Secure
Communities has proved divisive, however, in part because tens of thousands of
individuals deported under the program were arrested only for minor crimes, or
have no prior offenses.
Moreover, there has been confusion over how the program is
being deployed; it's unclear whether a state or city can choose to opt out. A New York
Times article last month showed
that in Chicago,
the Department of Homeland Security had pressured an unwilling mayor and
sheriff to adopt the program.
In Chelsea, the auditorium was filled to capacity by
hundreds of people holding signs that read "Secure Communities will make our
Community Unsafe", "Say no to Secure Communities, it Legitimizes Profiling of
Non White Immigrants" and "Take Away One Freedom and Soon They Are all
Curtis Wood, undersecretary of Forensic Science and
Technology for the Executive Office of Public Safety and Security, defended the
program. "This does not authorize local law enforcement to enforce immigration
law," he said. "It's not the same as the Arizona
After Wood and Mary Elizabeth Heffernan, secretary of EOPSS,
provided an overview of the program, about 70 people lined up on opposite sides
of the stage to express their concerns. The majority of them were cheered on by
the crowd as they argued that Secure Communities will deter people from
reporting crime in fears of being persecuted by immigration officials.
"I am committed to work for justice and I feel that the
immigrant community works extremely hard and gets exploited," said Vicky
Steinitz, coordinator for Cambridge United for Justice with Peace. "They have
no choice but to come here, and once they are here they are scapegoated."
Their opposition were a dozen of the program's supporters --
one of whom identified himself as a Tea Party member. As the crowd tried to
show them down, they denied allegations of racial profiling and stated the
program would only benefit everyone by getting rid of offenders. Some of them
held signs saying "We want Our Communities Safe Now."
According to ICE statistics, in Massachusetts, 381 convicted criminal aliens
have been arrested or booked into custody, and 137 have been deported using
"You folks are here in America because life is better
here," said Secure Communities booster Barbara Omara. "The major reason for
that is that it's always been a country of laws. We are all from immigrants,
but legal immigrants."
more El Planeta coverage of Secure Communities on TuBoston.com<<