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Posted Friday, December 22, 2006
                          
Patrick set to rescind plan for troopers
         
By Andrea Estes, Globe Staff
         
Opposes use to arrest illegal immigrants

Governor-elect Deval Patrick said yesterday that soon after taking office he will rescind a just-signed agreement between Governor Mitt Romney and federal authorities that allows State Police troopers to arrest illegal immigrants.

Speaking with reporters after a luncheon reception with state legislators, the incoming governor said for the first time that he believes he has the authority to overturn his predecessor's agreement. He said he believes that state troopers have enough to do without being required to enforce federal immigration laws.

"If I have that power, I'm going to rescind that agreement," Patrick, a Democrat, told reporters. He added: "I do believe I have that power."

The 15-page agreement with US Immigration and Customs Enforcement states it will remain in effect "until terminated by either party." Though Patrick did not sign the document, his office said it appears that the new governor can revoke the deal.

In the exchange with reporters, Patrick also said that federal immigration authorities do not want state troopers to be involved in immigration enforcement. "I also understand, by the way, that INS isn't interested in sharing their enforcement powers," he said.

But Patrick backtracked later, saying through an aide that he misspoke when he said the US Immigration and Naturalization Service, now called US Immigration and Customs Enforcement, opposes the agreement. A federal immigration official interviewed by the Globe also said the agency continued to back the agreement yesterday.

"The governor-elect misspoke when he referenced the INS," said spokeswoman Cyndi Roy. She did not elaborate on the nature of his misstatement.

"He believes troopers' time would be better spent working with local law enforcement officials on issues like firearm trafficking, drug use, and gang violence," Roy added.

On Dec. 13 Romney signed the controversial agreement that would allow specially deputized state troopers to arrest suspected illegal immigrants and charge them with violating US immigration laws. Unless Patrick intervenes, about 30 troopers are set to take a five-week training course early next year to begin implementing the new policy, Romney's office said.

"ICE has given us every indication they are firmly behind the program, and in fact they wouldn't have entered into the agreement if they felt otherwise," said Romney spokesman Eric Fehrnstrom. "I can only speak for Governor Romney, and, in his view, we need to do what we can to enforce the nation's laws on immigration. This doesn't add or detract from the day-to-day responsibilities of the State Police. It simply gives them an additional tool to use in their investigations into criminal activity."

Similar agreements in other states have drawn praise from those who support cracking down on illegal immigration. They have also sparked outrage from some police officials, civil libertarians, and advocates for immigrants, who argue the policy discourages immigrants from cooperating with law enforcement authorities.

Under the Massachusetts agreement, troopers from five specialized units would receive training on immigration law from US Immigration and Customs Enforcement, which would certify the officers to question, detain, and arrest suspected illegal immigrants without warrants.

The troopers now work in elite units that capture violent fugitives, investigate organized crime and gang activity, enforce drug laws, and help local police in high-crime neighborhoods. Officials say that the troopers would arrest only illegal immigrants they encounter while investigating other crimes.

"We have had a number of success stories under the program," said Paula Grenier, spokeswoman for ICE's Boston office.

She said, for example, that since the Mecklenburg County, N.C., sheriff's office received authority in February 2006, nearly 1,000 criminal illegal immigrants have been identified and charged with violations. More than 125 immigrants have been deported.

Grenier would not comment on Patrick's pledge to rescind the agreements even before the officers are trained.

"The fact of the matter is ICE has entered into an agreement and signed a memorandum of understanding with the state of Massachusetts," she said. "These law enforcement partnerships play a critical role in protecting our homeland. I can only talk about what I have in front of me now. We have a signed agreement. I'm not going to speculate on what could be down the road."

Massachusetts was the ninth jurisdiction to enter into such an agreement, which was first authorized in 1996. The list includes Alabama, Florida, and a few counties in California and North Carolina.

During the governor's race, Patrick dismissed what was then still a proposal, calling it a "gimmick," and advocated broad federal immigration reform instead.

Reprinted from The Boston Globe of Friday, December 22, 2006.

Copyright 2006 Globe Newspaper Company.

20 The New York Times Company

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