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I ♥ Menino

Posted by Carol Rose, On Liberty  July 11, 2011 05:54 PM

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Boston is one of the most welcoming and cosmopolitan cities in America, thanks in large part to the courage and leadership of our five-term Mayor Thomas Menino.

The Mayor is a guy who is willing to do what is right for his city and isn't afraid to take some heat--even if it means taking on the Feds. He was ahead of his time when he set up the Office of New Bostonians in 1998, one of his many diversity initiatives that have transformed Boston into an international hub of higher education and high-tech jobs.

Mayor Menino knew that these and other initiatives would make our "city on a hill" a beacon to people from around the nation and around the world. And for those of us lucky enough to be born in Boston, it makes our city a great place to live and work.

So it was with pride that I read that the Mayor once again is doing the right thing for the city by standing up to pressure from the Feds to deploy Boston police officers in a federal scheme to create a fingerprint dragnet in our fair city.

In a strongly worded letter to the Department of Homeland Security, the Mayor wrote that the Boston pilot of the federal Secure Communities (S-Comm) program has shown that the scheme is not working for Boston and "must change substantially or be scrapped."

I vote for "scrapped."

Among other things, the Mayor correctly points out that the S-Comm dragnet is "negatively impacting public safety" by "leading community members--including witnesses and victims of crime--to withhold information from the police." The scheme also lacks "accuracy and transparency in the data" and sweeps in far more people than the criminals it purports to target.

In fact, the S-Comm dragnet will ensnare anyone picked up by the police for any reason--even if charges are later dropped, and even if you're a U.S. citizen or legal resident.

No doubt, the Feds will argue that they can "fix" S-Comm by tweaking it around the edges. But I don't think the Mayor and Boston Police Commissioner Ed Davis will be played for fools that easily.

In fact, while the feds try to sell S-Comm as an anti-immigrant deportation scheme, documents recently released under the Freedom of Information Act show that the FBI intends to use the S-Comm database to trawl for information on everyone as part of a massive federal database that will include fingerprints, iris scans, palm prints, and facial recognition information--not just of immigrants, but of all U.S. citizens and legal residents as well.

If that doesn't give you a case of the yips, you need to watch Minority Report.

Wisely, Boston signed up only to be a test pilot city for the program in 2006, when ICE touted it as a way to get hardened criminals off the streets. That "pilot" shows that deportations out of Boston have continued to increase, but so has crime. And ICE's own statistics show that most people deported under this program are not criminals at all--a majority of them weren't even charged with misdemeanors. Instead, the Boston pilot shows that S-Comm drives both victims and witnesses to crimes underground, undermining community policing efforts and making our city less safe.

Based on these "pilot" projects, S-Comm is coming under fire throughout the nation. Last month, Governor Patrick told the Feds that Massachusetts would not participate in the program, and Illinois Governor Patrick Quinn and New York Governor Andrew Cuomo also rejected S-Comm, as have a number of other cities and towns throughout the nation.

Mayor Menino deserves credit for staying true to Boston's reputation as a city that welcomes newcomers and citizens alike, while focusing on community-based policing as the best way to keep our streets safe. Let's hope that the Mayor continues to be smart on public safety and makes a final decision to scrap S-Comm for good.

This blog is not written or edited by or the Boston Globe.
The author is solely responsible for the content.

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About the author

Carol Rose is executive director of the American Civil Liberties Union of Massachusetts. A lawyer and journalist, Carol has spent her career working for and writing about human rights and civil liberties, both in the United States and abroad. More »

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