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Somerville, MA, June 3, 2014 –Mayor Joseph A. Curtatone’s decision to sign an executive order curtailing Somerville’s participation in the Secure Communities program has earned praise from some, but criticism from others.
The U.S. Immigration and Customs Agency created Secure Communities in order to find and deport undocumented immigrants who have allegedly broken the law. The program asks local law enforcement to hold suspected undocumented immigrants for up to 48 hours for infractions as minor as a broken taillight. During this period, federal officials can check peoples’ immigration status. Critics say it causes immigrant communities to cease communicating and cooperating with local police.
In a community as diverse as Somerville, some – like Patricia Montes, executive director of the immigrant advocacy group Centro Presente – believe the program is flawed and applaud the major’s decision.
“The message is that the City of Somerville cares about democracy, about freedom,” Montes said at a May 22 signing ceremony. “The City of Somerville respects basic human rights of all people including undocumented people.”
The mayor’s decision makes Somerville one of the first cities in the nation to cease participation in the federal program.
“All of you are an integral part of this community and we would be poorer, not richer in this community, if we allowed families to be continued to be broken apart,” Curtatone told those gathered at the Somerville Police Department in Union Square.
Centro Presente staff, supporters of the city’s immigrant communities and several aldermen were present.
“We have made it our mission in the city to protect our residents and not to persecute them,” said Alderman John “Jack” Connolly. His family is originally from Ireland.
Despite the praise, Curtatone’s decision raised the ire of many. Letters to the editors, comments on blogs and in newspaper articles have criticized the executive order as overreach. But Acting Police Chief Charlie Femino applauded the move.
“Although the decision is controversial to go forward with this enactment, it takes leadership to do so and I believe in the mayor with that leadership in doing so makes a major statement, “Femino said.
A strengthened relationship between undocumented immigrants and law enforcement will help police solve important crimes and keep people safe, Femino noted.
“I think it will be positive in the future for all law enforcement,” he added.