EagleTribune.com, North Andover, MA

May 10, 2012

Program targeting illegal immigrants takes many in N.H. by surprise

By Cara Hogan
chogan@eagletribune.com

A controversial federal program launched quietly this week in New Hampshire.

But few people knew anything about Secure Communities, even those who are expected to enforce it.

"I can't confirm anything about the program in New Hampshire right now," Attorney General Michael Delaney said yesterday. "(The U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement) did not give me or anyone at my office any notification about the program."

Secure Communities mandates the FBI automatically send fingerprints from arrests to ICE to check against immigration databases. The aim is to discover illegal immigrants.

The program has been criticized as one that encourages racial profiling. It's created a firestorm in Massachusetts, where Gov. Deval Patrick opposes the program.

But in the Granite State, most people were unaware it went into effect Tuesday.

Londonderry police Chief William Hart said his department wasn't told anything.

"Personally, I found out by reading the newspapers and hearing it on the major news outlets," he said. "I don't know whether they've contacted individual departments, but we have not been formally contacted with regard to the program."

Hart said he still didn't know whether the program would affect his department.

"I can't say whether it will help our department until I learn how it's going to be implemented by ICE," he said.

The program started as a voluntary agreement between states, but is now mandatory and will expand nationwide by 2013, according to ICE spokesman Ross Feinstein.

Those agencies that did receive official notification said the impact would be minimal.

"We got a press release about it," said Earl Sweeney, the state's Assistant Public Safety Commissioner. "But I don't think it will make any difference for New Hampshire law enforcement. If we encounter an illegal alien that is wanted, we would place them in custody and notify ICE. We support their efforts."

Rockingham County Sheriff Michael Downing agreed the program wouldn't change much locally.

"We submit all our fingerprints when anyone's incarcerated at the jail," he said. "That goes to the FBI and they send it to ICE if there's a hit. They determine if it's someone they're interested in and if they want to (detain). I don't think anything is going to change."

Massachusetts will become part of Secure Communities next week, despite objections from the governor, who said it promotes racial profiling.

In New Hampshire, Gov. John Lynch's office has no problem with the program, according to spokesman Colin Manning.

"New Hampshire routinely shares data with the federal government," he said. "It's the federal government's decision."

Some local police officials said they might not have received official notice because it really won't affect their day-to-day operations or methods.

"Operationally, it will not affect us," Windham police Capt. Carl Wagner said yesterday. "That's probably why they haven't done a large dissemination. We continue to process arrests as we normally would, forwarding fingerprints to the FBI."

In Derry, Capt. Vernon Thomas said his department is still waiting to learn more.

"They will let us know what we need to do," he said.

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