Wednesday, August 24, 2011

Role of police in deportations debated again (Worcester Telegram & Gazette)

Role of police in deportations debated again

Wednesday, August 24, 2011

MILFORD — A horrific fatal accident Saturday has reignited the debate over a federal program that prioritizes the deportation of illegal immigrants who have criminal records.

Police Chief Thomas J. O’Loughlin said yesterday that the program, the Secure Communities Act, “would have clearly looked at” the record of Nicholas Guaman, who allegedly was driving drunk when he struck and killed a motorcyclist, dragging him a quarter of a mile.

The 34-year-old Milford resident has pleaded not guilty to vehicular homicide, driving under the influence of alcohol, leaving the scene of an accident involving personal injury and death, possession of an open container, failing to stop for police, unlicensed driving, failing to yield at a stop sign, wanton or reckless conduct creating risk to a child, and resisting arrest.

A native of Ecuador, Mr. Guaman was ordered held on $100,000 cash bail at his arraignment Monday in Milford District Court. He is also being investigated by federal immigration officials and was held on a detainer from U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement.

Under Secure Communities, when someone is arrested his or her fingerprints are transmitted to the FBI and U.S. Department of Homeland Security, with a copy to state police. This happens regardless of whether the person is suspected of being an illegal immigrant. The program also allows ICE to look at the charges and determine whether the detainee is someone ICE should focus on.

Mr. Guaman was previously convicted of breaking and entering with intent to commit a felony, and on three assault and battery charges, as well as several other charges stemming from a Feb. 3, 2008, incident.

Chief O’Loughlin said yesterday he favors the federal program operated by Homeland Security. He said Milford has a sizable population from Ecuador, Guatemala and Brazil.

“I arrest someone, they tell me their name, date of birth, where they live locally, and I don’t know if any of that is true. It’s not like I can call town hall somewhere in Ecuador and say, ‘Can you verify this?’ I’m stuck in that respect,” the chief said.

Opponents of Secure Communities say it will create a divide between immigrant communities and police.

Chief O’Loughlin said he doesn’t think that argument is valid. He said it was a Brazilian who tipped off police here to two men who were wanted for murder in Brazil.

The state controls what Chief O’Loughlin referred to as the “switch” to link with Homeland Security, and the governor, after holding public hearings throughout the state this year, opted not to enter the program.

Speaking at her home yesterday, former state representative Marie J. Parente said this was the third time a Milfordian has been killed by an unlicensed driver who was in the country illegally.

Ms. Parente estimated 3,000 illegal immigrants are residing in Milford, a town of about 28,000 people. About 10 percent of illegal immigrants drive without licenses, she estimated.

A state representative from 1980 to 2006, Ms. Parente has expressed her support of the Secure Communities Act in a letter to President Obama. She said that people enter the country illegally because they know they will enjoy more benefits than citizens.

“The road to citizenship is not torture,” she said. “All societies, no matter how primitive, have rules to preserve that group. Ours are you have a physical, you’re not a criminal coming into our country, you’re healthy, you have a way to support yourself, and a place to live.”

Ms. Parente said Mr. Guaman had the chance of a lifetime living undercover as he and his family enjoyed all kinds of benefits. “Still that wasn’t enough,” she said, adding that the accident and death has “ripped the hearts of Milfordians. They are furious in this town.”

Worcester County Sheriff Lewis G. Evangelidis also denounced the accident, calling it a tragedy that “highlights the immediate need for the implementation of the Secure Communities Act.”

He said it was implausible to think that Gov. Deval L. Patrick would not reconsider his position on this issue and begin to immediately enact Secure Communities.

Alex Goldstein, a spokesman for Mr. Patrick, said Massachusetts already voluntarily shares fingerprint data with the federal government. The governor’s policy is that serious criminals who are here illegally should be deported. Massachusetts has and will continue to send fingerprints to the federal government and the state Department of Correction will continue to work with Immigration and Customs Enforcement to facilitate removal of undocumented immigrants who have been convicted of felonies in the state, Mr. Goldstein said.

“Our deepest condolences go out to the family and friends of the victim of this terrible crime. The focus now is on prosecuting the person responsible and ensuring that justice is served. We will provide whatever assistance is required to get that done,” Mr. Goldstein said.

Mr. Guaman is accused of being drunk when he allegedly ran a stop sign about 7:45 p.m. Saturday and struck the motorcycle driven by Matthew Denice, 23, of Milford. Witnesses told police Mr. Denice was stuck in the wheel well of Mr. Guaman’s pickup and was dragged about a quarter of a mile, despite people chasing the truck and banging on the sides screaming at the driver to stop.

Leslie L. Wheeler, a local resident whose husband is a Brazilian national, called the accident “awful,” but she disagreed with characterizations of illegal immigrants. She said they generally want nothing more than to work hard for better lives and leave others alone.

A. Wayne Sampson, executive director of the Grafton-based Massachusetts Chiefs of Police Association, said police chiefs have very divergent views on Secure Communities, the concept of which will be a federal mandate in 2012 or 2013.

Mr. Sampson, the former Shrewsbury police chief, said sharing information makes sense, but the question becomes, “How will the federal government use it?”

A lot of communities are having problems with the implementation of the program, he said. “Does the Commonwealth or does the federal government have the capacity to actually implement a total program?”

He said it has been reported to him that when police call ICE to tell them they have detained a person who appears to be an illegal immigrant, “in most cases they will tell you to go ahead and bail them and let them go because they don’t have anyone to come and bail them or come and get them. They’re selective in who they come out for.

“So if we don’t have the capacity now, what are they going to do when there’s full implementation of the program? This is the reality of any program,” he said. “You have to understand what the impact is going to be.”

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