It hasn’t come without hesitation and it hasn’t come without quite a bit of pressure from all angles, but after one quarter of cooperating with the federal government’s Secure Communities program, Chelsea Police indicate that the feds are not overstepping their boundaries and it is making the community more safe.
The controversial Secure Communities program from the federal Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) went into effect statewide on May 15th, and it involves the local police sharing information (specifically fingerprints) with ICE for every person arrested in Chelsea. If ICE has an interest in detaining that person, they fax over a detainer and then take action on the person at arraignment.
In some communities, such a program mattered very little, but in a community like Chelsea where there is a great deal of immigration and a very large amount of illegal immigration – such a program brought a tangible amount of fear and paranoia to many residents. Many believed it would be a license to round up any illegal immigrant peacefully walking the streets and put them in federal custody to await deportation – a perception fanned in great deal by hearsay and some Spanish media.
This week, Chief Brian Kyes reported that there had been 10 detainers sent over since May 15th, and all were for individuals with significant records and who fit the stated priorities of the program.
“It’s really been not much of a change for us,” said Kyes. “We’ve made about 600 arrests since May 15th and of that number we’ve only had 10 detainers. They have all been for Level 1 crimes, people arrested for serious felonies and other types of seriouscrimes…Certainly in Chelsea, our concern is that ICE adheres to the priorities that they stated. They are 10 for 10 so far. With us in Chelsea, it’s been a non-issue. They’ve adhered to their priorities and so long as they do, it’s good for us.”
City Manager Jay Ash agreed that as long as ICE does not overstep its boundaries and go after people who have committed lesser crimes or no crimes at all, then Chelsea is supportive.
“I appreciate ICE’s targeted efforts to remove violent offenders, sexual predators and drug dealers in their recent round-up,” said Ash, referring to an operation run by ICE two weeks ago. “By utilizing this exact type of strategy, ICE has demonstrated its ability to remove those who are a danger to our communities, and leave in place safer communities for the rest of us. I commend their work and hope that ICE will continue to focus on those individuals who threaten all that we hope our communities can be.”
Kyes said he has kept a detailed spreadsheet on all of the 10 detainers sent out so that he can tell how dangerous the requested individuals are, and whether or not ICE is keeping to its word.
For Kyes, the non-issue status came only after quite a bit of strife. Because Chelsea is unlike most communities when it comes to immigration, he was originally concerned that ICE would overstep its boundaries in Chelsea and disrupt the unity that has developed between the police and most residents.
For that, Kyes and the CPD took quite a bit of heat from conservative radio and other members of the Boston media. He was painted as being too soft on crime and too lenient on illegal immigration.
All that just for being cautious about retaining order in Chelsea’s very diverse mix of people.
Then, from the other side, last May he was invited to participate in a forum organized by a local community group opposed to the program that – en masse – demanded that he ignore any detainers sent from ICE – which he felt he could not do.
“They wanted me to ignore the program and the detainers and I couldn’t do that because what if they sent over a detainer and we ignored it and the person went down the street and killed or hurt someone,” he said. “I would be in trouble. That would be my job and someone would have been harmed because of us taking on that position.”
As a happy medium, Kyes and the superior officers in the department pledged to keep an eagle’s eye on any and all detainers sent over from ICE in response to a Chelsea Police arrest. So far, there have been far fewer detainers issued than what was expected, and Kyes reiterated that all of them were very much within the boundaries of the program.
Just over a week ago, ICE coordinated a round up in Chelsea and many of the surrounding communities – using the Revere Police Station as its base. Contrary to what many believed, the recent round up was not part of the Secure Communities program, but was an off-shoot of that area of ICE’s enforcement. Some nine Chelsea residents were taken into custody during that round up, all of whom had prior criminal records and had been scheduled for removal from the country due to those criminal convictions.
“This really wasn’t part of the Secure Communities effort that has raised so much controversy,” said Kyes. “That effort was really only a matter of ICE finally catching up to people who were supposed to be removed after they had served their time for their crime.”
In a further step towards positive public relations concerning ICE roundups, Kyes said that Chelsea Police officers do not typically accompany ICE agents on arrests for removal actions. While they do accompany agents on matters where danger might be involved or matters of national security, they typically avoid helping out when ICE is simply catching up to people who are scheduled to be removed. He said that is part of an effort to reassure people about the local police’s role in immigration enforcement.
“They usually don’t need our help and we don’t want officers in uniform being seen by the public taking away people who haven’t necessarily done anything at that moment,” he said. “We do not enforce the immigration laws, never have. We don’t want the perception out there that Chelsea Police are coming to houses with ICE and arresting people who haven’t broken the law at that moment.”
He said that he and the rest of the department will continue to monitor the program and make sure it stays within its limits.
“If they keep to their priorities, we’re good,” he said. “Believe me, I would be the first to stand up and make some noise if they veered from those priorities.”