Thursday, September 29, 2011

Autumn of the Illegal

Remember the 'Summer of the Shark'? Those few warm months in the days prior to 9/11 when it seemed every week brought a new horrific news story about some innocent bather munched by a wedge-finned terror from below?  It wasn't actually the case that the sharks were rising up to take back the oceans; shark attacks just happened to be the media's collective obsession at the time, and as a result stories that in an ordinary year remained confined the regions in which they occurred became national news.

We're seeing a variation of that in Massachusetts right now, only this time the tragedies in question are both man-made and eminently preventable, and the media attention might actually lead to constructive changes in law and process intended to reduce the chances of more such incidents in the future. All of a sudden it seems like every day in Massachusetts there is a new report of an illegal immigrant - often an individual with a serious criminal record - committing a crime that results in injury or death to an innocent person. Nicolas Guaman, an illegal immigrant from Ecuador with felony assault of a police officer on his record, who hit and killed  Matthew Denice while driving drunk in Milford late in the summer.  Then Uncle Omar, hot on his heels (and today reportedly giggling in court).  On the very day that Michael Graham (who has been at this issue like a dog at a bone) filed this column adding Eduardo Torres (6 OUIs) to the list, Marcelo Almeida stabbed his girlfriend to death in Marshfield in an incident that might be added to the sad and all-too-ordinary domestic violence file but for the fact that Almeida's criminal history should have resulted in deportation long before he turned murderer.  And now there's Wanderson DaSilva-Neto, an illegal who came close yesterday in Ipswich to tragic re-enactment of Matthew Denice's horrific death when he got behind the wheel drunk, and struck and dragged a seven year old girl in Ipswich (happily she survived, reportedly with only minor injuries).

So what is going on here?  Has the illegal immigrant community of Massachusetts suddenly decided to go on a drunken rampage?  Or is it just that all of a sudden the press is paying attention to the defendants in cases like this, ferreting out for publicity the ones who would not even be here but for Governor Patrick's steadfast, steel-jawed and now drippingly condescending opposition to the federal Secure Communities program?  Does it matter?

I should mention, I suppose, that the press is hardly uniform in the degree of attention it is paying to this issue.  Exclusive readers of the Globe could be forgiven for knowing very little about it, as its editors have apparently deemed the issue (and by extension all those victims I just mentioned) largely beneath their notice.  But the TV networks, the regional papers, and especially the Herald have been all over it.  Much as Governor Patrick must have hoped the issue would go away (as it did during last year's campaign) following Matthew Denice's killing, it hasn't.  He has a group of Sheriffs going rogue on him, demanding that the federal government side-step his opposition and allow them to implement Secure Communities.  He has his ordinary allies on the op-ed pages turning on him (Margery Egan at the Herald and today Joan Venocchi at - yes! - the Globe, though there's a telling caveat to that below*). He has the families of those victims I mentioned asking, admonishing and even begging him to drop his indefensible opposition to a common sense program that might well have spared their loved ones.

And the Governor's reaction?  The aforementioned dripping condescension.  All of this uproar is a "publicity stunt," he says dismissively.  Shame on him.

I've laid this out before - as has Michael Graham and others - but in the face of Governor Patrick's doggedly consistent repetition of falsehoods and half-truths it bears repeating: Secure Communities is not about racial profiling.  It is not about turning the police against immigrant communities.  It is not about local police enforcing federal law.  It has nothing to do with bigotry or discrimination or bias.  It is ALL about efficient and effective information sharing between law enforcement agencies to get dangerous people off of the streets and out of our communities - immigrant communities most definitely included.

All Secure Communities does in the jurisdictions where it is in place (over half the country) is facilitate and streamline the process by which fingerprint data on arrested individuals is transmitted to ICE, the agency in Homeland Security charged with enforcement of immigration laws.  That's it.  That's all.  That is what the Governor finds so objectionable.  That is what he seeks to prevent by claiming - falsely - that Secure Communities "would not change anything," and that local officials "already share information with the federal government."  Margery Egan gets it just right:
Nobody wants racial profiling. But the people being fingerprinted, again, are those arrested for crimes, not victims of crimes. A robbery victim here illegally may indeed be afraid to report the crime. But Secure Communities does not affect that situation at all. Plus, the Obama administration just announced that future deportations will target serious criminals, not illegals caught speeding or driving without a license.

Call me suspicious, but what seems to be happening here is politicians placating an ever more powerful voting block: Latinos. Meanwhile the uber-PC set hates to be seen picking on the downtrodden. And that’s swell, just as long as the downtrodden aren’t rapists, kidnappers, mother beaters and daddy stabbers, too.

The process Governor Patrick is defending is to Secure Communities what the US Postal Service is to email.  Sure, both get the message there eventually.  But the latter is infinitely more efficient and effective than the former - IF both sender and recipient are equipped with the necessary technology.  Patrick's position is purely political and wholly indefensible.

It is too bad that it took a string of crime and tragedy to wake up the press and the public to the implications of the Patrick Administration's intractability on an issue with literal life and death implications.

[* The caveat to the Globe's willingness to publish that Joan Vennochi column criticizing the Patrick Administration's position on Secure Communities?  Look at the caption below the accompanying photograph: "Governor Deval Patrick wants to require local police to send fingerprints of arrested suspects to the FBI and immigrations officials."  Apparently it is opposite day as the Globe prepares to step behind its online subscription-only firewall.]


  1. Have you seen this blog post? It's about illegal immigrants in Mass.

  2. Thanks Anonymous. That is clever (really, it is), but as to the issue it is an evasion. For obvious reasons - political ones - certain people and groups want to make this all about the minority status of the criminals in question, when in fact that is entirely secondary. Oh, to be sure but for their immigration status the Secure Communities program would have no relevance to these people. But that is not the factor that makes the program a threat to them. To the thousands of illegal immigrants in this country going about their daily lives, not committing violent and/or life-endangering crimes, Secure Communities is no threat at all. It is the further criminal activity - behavior that draws an arrest - that triggers the program. Criminality is the most relevant factor, not national origin.
    Thanks again for taking the time to comment.


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