Candidates urge illegal immigrant crackdown

By Michael Levenson
Globe Staff / May 27, 2010

E-mail this article

Invalid E-mail address
Invalid E-mail address

Sending your article

Your article has been sent.

  • E-mail|
  • Print|
  • Reprints|
  • |
Text size +

Staking out increasingly tough stances on illegal immigration, Republican gubernatorial candidate Charles D. Baker and independent rival Timothy P. Cahill said yesterday that they want to give police the authority to arrest people who are in the country illegally and charge them with immigration violations.

As the two candidates battle for conservative voters, Baker said he would reinstate a controversial agreement with the federal government that Governor Mitt Romney signed in 2006 that deputized 30 specially trained State Police troopers to detain illegal immigrants.

Cahill said he wants to go further, authorizing the State Police and all local officers to check the immigration status of suspects they encounter during regular police investigations.

Immigration is currently the province of the federal government, though many critics say Washington has failed to stem the influx of illegal immigrants, and the issue has emerged as a flashpoint in the Massachusetts governor’s race.

Romney’s order, signed in the final month of his term as he intensified his bid for the GOP presidential nomination, was reversed by Governor Deval Patrick in his first week in office in 2007. Patrick criticized the policy as a misuse of scant police resources. Some urban police chiefs, including Boston Police Commissioner Edward F. Davis, have said it would have strained relations between officers and residents in immigrant neighborhoods.

But Baker said he has talked over the last several months to “a bunch of law enforcement people, and they all basically said the same thing to me.’’

“As a tool for dealing with some really bad actors in some of our cities, they said it was an effective tool, and they were sorry not to have it as a way to protect their communities,’’ Baker said.

Cahill said residents are fed up with illegal immigration.

“We’re not looking to profile people or prejudge,’’ said Cahill, the state treasurer. “But, if they can’t prove they are citizens, then that should be part of the police work of detaining and eventually deporting people.’’

The two challengers are raising the issue following a traffic accident last Thursday that has drawn renewed attention to immigration. A car driven by state Representative Michael J. Moran was rear-ended in Brighton by a Mexican man whom immigration authorities believe is in the country illegally. The man, Isaias Naranjo, is being held on drunken driving charges and has been ordered deported.

“Nothing is going to happen to me, man,’’ Naranjo told officers as he was being booked, according to the State Police, adding that he was “going back to my home country, Mexico.’’

Cahill and Baker both argued that the case underscored the need for more police power to enforce immigration laws.

“They have a tough enough job to begin with, and when they’re laughed at by illegal immigrants that say, ‘There’s nothing you can do to me,’ I’m sure it must frustrate them,’’ Cahill said.

But even under the current system, Naranjo’s status was uncovered by a federal immigration official screening inmates at the Nashua Street jail, according to Harold Ort, a spokesman for US Immigration and Customs Enforcement.

Both Baker and Cahill have said they would not support a law in Massachusetts similar to the one that passed in Arizona last month.

That law requires police officers to demand proof of residency from any person with whom they have made “any lawful contact’’ and about whom they have “reasonable suspicion’’ that the person might be in the country illegally.

Instead, Baker said, he would reenroll Massachusetts in the federal program used by a handful of states, including Rhode Island, that allows state troopers to arrest people determined during the course of an investigation to be illegal immigrants.

“I don’t see the problem with having state government and federal government . . . working together on stuff like this, especially if it’s done in a targeted way and done judiciously,’’ Baker said.

The program never took effect in Massachusetts because Patrick rescinded it before the troopers could be trained. Patrick replaced the policy with a program that targeted convicts in two state prisons for deportation.

Kurt N. Schwartz, Patrick’s undersecretary of public safety, said it would be a mistake to reinstate Romney’s policy now and direct state troopers to enforce federal immigration law.

He said the issue was recently discussed at a meeting of the Massachusetts Major City Chiefs and there was “a widespread consensus among police chiefs, particularly in the state’s urban areas, that they do not want to be in the business of enforcing immigration law.’’

“This is not in the interests of public safety,’’ Schwartz said.

“It will have the opposite effect,’’ he added, leading residents in urban areas to “pull away and distrust the police and become fearful,’’ even when officers need them to report crimes or help them find suspects.

Currently, local police departments in Massachusetts can enroll in a federal program that lets them enforce immigration laws.

But the only two agencies that have done so, Framingham police and the Barnstable Sheriff’s Department, both dropped out of the program last year.

Framingham police said they balked when federal officials wanted them to detain immigrants, transport them, and even testify in immigration court.

Barnstable officials said federal officials suspended their program, saying only that they were “going in a different direction.’’

Connect with

Twitter Follow us on @BostonUpdate, other Twitter accounts