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|Framingham Police officers receive immigration training||Sunday, November 11, 2007|
|Liz Mineo 508-626-3825||Metrowest Daily News|
FRAMINGHAM - Two Framingham Police officers recently finished a five-week training on immigration enforcement, making them the first officers in MetroWest able to enforce immigration laws.
The news, first reported in a Brazilian newspaper, has civic leaders worried about whether it would thwart efforts by police to bridge the gap with the Brazilian community. The initiative began in June with the town's first dialogue between government leaders and local Brazilians.
"People are already afraid of the police, but it's Immigration they fear the most," said Vera Dias-Freitas, a Brazilian community leader and a businesswoman. "The more the police approaches Immigration, the further away they get from the Brazilian community."
Framingham Police Chief Steven Carl begs to differ. The main reason to send officers to receive training through the 287(g) program at the U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) Academy was to protect the community, he said.
"It's in the best interest of the Brazilian community," said Carl. "We want to identify those Brazilians who are victimizing Brazilians."
The 287(g) program provides training on immigration and criminal law, document examinations, alien status, ICE operations and removal charges. It also gives authority to question and detain foreigners who pose a threat to public safety for potential removal from the United States. But it doesn't allow officers to conduct random street operations, investigate day laborers, or question the immigration status of anyone, said ICE officials.
"Our focus is not the simple alien that has entered without inspection and is not involved in criminal violations," said Bruce Foucart, special agent in charge of ICE's Office of Investigations in Boston. "We're not interested in going after day laborers or excess occupancy in houses. We just don't have the resources to do it."
The focus of the 287(g) program is criminal aliens - foreigners who are suspected of a state crime that is more than a traffic offense. Immigrant advocates have opposed the program, saying it could turn local police into an arm of Immigration.
Fear not, said Carl, who hopes the program serves as an investigative tool to fight criminal activities by foreigners who act as if they were invisible because they don't show up in local police databases and people are afraid to report them. The program also offers access to federal databases with information about criminal aliens who may be violent felons, human or narcotics smugglers, gang members, immigration fugitives, or if they have been previously deported.
"We're not in the business of immigration law enforcement," he said. "We're in the business of criminal investigation. We don't have the desire, the budget or the facilities to enforce immigration law here. I can't worry about the illegal immigrant who drives without a license. I worry about those who are committing violent felonies, those who are violent criminals."
It's a concern shared by other police forces in MetroWest and the Milford area. Marlborough Police Chief Mark Leonard said he might consider it in the future, and Waltham Police spokesman Detective Sgt. Tim King felt the same way.
Milford Police Chief Thomas O'Loughlin said though it could bring benefits, he's not too sure they outweigh the drawbacks. The program could create barriers between the police and the community, and overwhelm police forces with immigration work, he said.
"Immigration is the responsibility of the federal government, not of the local police," said O'Loughlin. "And I don't want my officers to become federal agents. I want people who are victims of criminal offenses, whether they're illegal or not, to call the police. I don't want them to be afraid of us."
Only two other institutions in Massachusetts have taken part in the 287(g) program: the Department of Corrections and the Barnstable County's Sheriff Office. Framingham is the only police force in the region participating in the program. As of September of this year, 485 officers across the country have received training, and more than 25,000 arrests have taken place.
Among supporters of the 287(g) program are some who favor restrictions on immigration. For Jessica Vaughan, senior policy analyst with the Center for Immigration Studies, the training helps local police by giving them a tool to investigate crime in their communities. It also helps ICE, which is often short-staffed, by expanding its force and increasing the likelihood of apprehending criminal aliens.
"It's truly a force multiplier," said Vaughan. "The training allows police to identify criminal aliens and authorizes them to keep them in custody instead of releasing them back into the community. It makes criminal aliens more likely to be removed."
ICE officials said the program has been effective across the country, but it may not work for everybody.
"We need local police officers as partners to do our job, but the program may or may not work for some communities," said Foucart. "We ask them, 'In your community, do you have problems with gangs, human smuggling and document fraud?' and if the answer to those questions is no, it's likely it won't work. It just so happens that in Framingham the answer to those questions is yes."
Carl hopes the controversy over the program will fade once the community realizes there is more to gain than to lose. He said he had never considered sending officers to take part in the 287(g) program, but after two men were found to be members of a dangerous gang with connections to Brazil, he decided to do it.
"The gangs scared me," he said. "I want to prevent tragedy in the community. I'm not going to wait for someone to get killed."
As for fears in the community that police officers can become immigration agents looking for illegal immigrants, Carl said those concerns are unfounded. Of the officers that received the training, one speaks Spanish and the other, Portuguese.
"We never ask for immigration status," Carl said. "The average immigrant who is making a living here and is not involved in crime has nothing to worry about. Only the criminals should be concerned."
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