Northampton City Council rejects federal Secure Communities program


August 19, 2011

Photo: Council rejects federal immigration program


A group from Alliance to Develop Power, front, holds signs as the The Raging Grannies, back right, sing during a civil rights rally Thursday on the steps of Northampton City Hall. The City Council later unanimously approved a resolution condemning the federal immigration law enforcement program known as Secure Communities.

northampton – The City Council delivered another strong message in support of civil rights Thursday by unanimously approving a resolution that condemns a controversial federal immigration law enforcement program known as Secure Communities.

The resolution calls for city employees and police to shun participation in the program run by the U.S. Immigration and Custom Enforcement agency (ICE), which uses fingerprints that local police share with the FBI to cross-reference immigrants against its databases. The resolution also asks all city employees to avoid participation in other federal immigration laws that call into question fundamental rights under the state and U.S. constitutions.

“I think this is a very important statement for us to make,” said Council President David J. Narkewicz, who co-sponsored the resolution along with Ward 4 City Councilor Pamela Schwartz and Police Chief Russell P. Sienkiewicz.

Narkewicz was speaking before a throng of supporters who packed the Council Chambers, including Northampton attorney William C. Newman, who directs the western Massachusetts office of the American Civil Liberties Union. Newman delivered an impassioned plea to the council to throw its support behind the measure, which involved input from the ACLU, Bill of Rights Defense CommitteeAmerican Friends Service Committee and citizens working under the group Preserving Our Civil Rights.

“It breaks down trust between a community and police,” Newman said of the federal program. “It decreases public safety.”

On its website, ICE describes the purpose of its fingerprint database checks this way: “If these checks reveal that an individual is unlawfully present in the United States or otherwise removable due to a criminal conviction, ICE takes enforcement action – prioritizing the removal of individuals who present the most significant threats to public safety as determined by the severity of their crime, their criminal history, and other factors, as well as those who have repeatedly violated immigration laws.”

But Newman said Secure Communities has been an “utter failure,” because the vast majority of immigrants detained and deported under the program have no criminal records.

“There are very few statements from government officials that say, ‘yes, we should keep this program,” Newman said.

State officials also have come out against Secure Communities. Boston Mayor Thomas M. Menino last month condemned the program, saying it was souring relations between immigrants and law enforcement, and Gov. Deval Patrick has refused to expand it to the State Police. Northampton now joins Springfield as the only two western Massachusetts cities or towns to endorse measures opting out of the program, after several residents speaking before the council Thursday called it a divisive program that allows racial profiling.

“It’s just pure racism,” said Amy Bookbinder of Leeds.

Sienkiewicz, Northampton’s police chief, earlier said the bulk of the resolution reaffirms the Police Department’s commitment to not violate people’s rights. The resolution states that city employees and police “shall not monitor, stop, detain, question, interrogate or search a person for the purpose of determining that individual’s immigration status,” and that “Officers shall not inquire about the immigration status of any crime victim, witness or suspect, unless such information is directly relevant to the investigation, nor shall they refer such information to federal immigration enforcement authorities unless the information developed is directly relevant.”

Emma Roderick, a campaign coordinator for the Bill of Rights Defense Committee, among others, said it is important for immigrants, many of whom become productive members of society, to have access to police and public safety services without fear of detention and deportation.

“Immigrants are far more likely to be the targets of crime rather than the perpetrators of crime,” she said.

Dan Crowley can be reached at



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