All of the explosive ingredients seen in any public hearings focused on immigration happened in Framingham this afternoon: opinions, frustration and anger.
The specific topic that brought about 300 people to Mass Bay Community College’s cafeteria was whether Massachusetts should participate in Secure Communities,” a federal program that allows local law enforcement to have access to the Department of Homeland Security database on immigrants currently living in the U.S.
Richard Chacón, the director of the Office of Refugees and Immigrants, faced a diverse crowd – composed of immigrant and American workers, college professors, priests, pastors and leftist & rightist activists. He opened the meeting with a more conciliatory tone.
“For the last 15 years, Brazil has brought the most immigrant population to the state, followed by Dominican Republic, China, Germany, Portugal, and Canada,” said Chacón, who confessed to having grown up amongst the majority Latino population of Texas.
Before people were able to voice their opinions, Kurt Wood, the Commissioner of Massachusetts Department of Public Safety, gave an overview of the federal program.
He said the Secure Communities is scheduled to be implemented throughout the United States in 2013, “with us or without us.”
“When an individual is arrested, he is fingerprinted. The information is sent to the FBI, and the FBI shares it with ICE (Immigration and Customs Enforcement), that’s what happens,” said Wood.
Secure Communities does not authorize law enforcement officers in Massachusetts, or in any state, to enforce immigration laws, Wood stressed.
The crowd started to become agitated, when Sarang Sekhavat, policy director for the Massachusetts Immigration and Refugee Advocacy Coalition, spoke on behalf of 900,000 immigrants across the country.
“This program is not doing what was supposed to be doing. Of those arrested and deported by a pilot program, which started in Boston in 2008, 53 percent were non-criminal immigrants, only about 25 percent were what the government calls criminals,” said Sekhavat.
“We can’t afford to have our jails full because ICE is issuing detainers for immigrants who are not criminals, that’s what is happening right now,” he added.
Mike Scopa, a local resident, asked why the panel includes an advocate against the program, but does not have someone for Secure Communities.
“If in fact the illegal immigrant community is not for something as innocuous as the enforcement of the laws against level one offenders that says that this communities have a vested interested. I’m in favor of what the Governor is trying to do,” he said.
Megan Christopher, an attorney at MetroWest Legal Services, spoke about how if enacted the new federal program could break the trust between the community and the police.
“When we make so that the victim have a greater difficulty in reaching out for help, we create a small, tight, isolated community of people who are easily victimized,” said Christopher. “Slum lords, bad employers, abusers of all kind, can practically find by a zip code people who cannot stand up for themselves.”
State Sen. Jamie Eldridge, a Democrat from Marlborough, highlighted several reasons against the application of the federal program.
He said the only way to restore the Governor’s credibility with the immigrant community would be not to sign the proposal.
Eldridge was practically shut off by those against his view, who claimed he had used more than 1 minute to speak.
An American Iraq veteran, who said he was a lawyer, said he “noticed that the panel does not make a distinction between legal and illegal immigrants.”
“Illegal immigration is a federal crime. I find it ironic that we spend hundreds of billions of dollars to teach the rule of the law in Iraq, but we are not doing it here,” he said, only to hear several members of the audience shout: “go back to Law School, illegal immigration is a civil violation.”
A Colombian woman, who sought political asylum in the U.S., told the crowd holding signs saying “Illegals, go back home,” that she would die if she were sent back to her country.
She said the drug trafficking guerrillas would kill her, the same they did her father.
The woman claimed that many in the audience would not agree to work for $8 per hour, like she does – the audience erupted in applause.
Towards the end of the hearing, Framingham Patch asked Chacón: if Chicago decided not to participate in the federal program, why Massachusetts needs to do it?
Chacón said he could not speak for that what Chicago is doing, and that these meetings will inform the Governor and will guide a broader discussion about the program with Immigration and Customs Enforcement.
The meeting at Mass Bay Community College was the second of a series of 12 public hearings the Governor’s Office is hosting in Massachusetts.
Commissioner Kurt Wood said a decision about Secure Communities, may be reached sometime this summer.