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Waltham Group Hails Governor's Decision To Forgo Immigration Enforcement Program

Waltham group lauds decision for several reasons.

Gov. Deval Patrick has declined to sign onto a controversial federal immigration enforcement program.

Patrick has decided not to enroll in the Secure Communities program, a U.S. Department of Homeland Security initiative, according to a Friday, June 3 letter from Massachusetts Public Safety Secretary Mary Elizabeth Heffernan to the DHS. The governor’s press office provided a copy of the letter to Patch.

Click on the photo box to the right to view a copy of the letter.

“I’m really excited [about the decision] for many different reasons,” said Allison Berry, a community organizer for REACH, a Waltham-based support group for victims of domestic violence.

The program would have certainly had an impact in Waltham, which is home to many different ethnicities, including some Latinos.

Currently, state participation in the program is optional,. By 2013, however, the Secure Communities program will become mandatory for every state. 

The federal program would have state and local law enforcers to refer illegal aliens arrested for alleged crimes to federal authorities for possible deportation, according to the DHS Web site. 

Berry said she was elated to hear the news. She said she was grateful to the governor for listening to the concerns of Waltham immigrants and others.

“I’m really excited about the work that folks in Waltham have done,” she said.

REACH opposed the program during a public meeting held Berry, today, said that the program would have instilled fear into the immigrant community, in several ways. Immigrants with questionable immigration status might avoid calling police for help in escaping domestic violence situations because of fears they might be deported, Berry said.

“It would be hard for the victims [to contact police],” Berry said.

In the letter to the DHS, Heffernan cites several reasons for the decision.

“Through the community meetings we have held around the Commonwealth, residents have expressed concerns about racial profiling as a result of the program,” Heffernan wrote. “Some in law enforcement fear the program is overly overbroad [sic] and may deter the reporting of criminal activity.”

Mayors were also “apprehensive,” that such a program would dampen their relations with immigrant communities, according to the letter.

Despite the decision, the state plans to continue working with federal officials in other ways to enforce immigration laws, according to the letter. 

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