The controversy over the federal illegal immigration program Secure Communities reached a boiling point yesterday with stakeholders on both sides doing what they could to advance or stop the program.

Opponents of the program, which refers arrested illegal immigrants to federal immigration officials, put an end to a State House press conference by legislators and county sheriffs who argued for its expansion statewide.

Currently only Boston participates in the program, but city officials have expressed their concerns to federal authorities about the way the program is run and have threatened to back out.

Gov. Deval Patrick has refused to sign on to the program, which has angered some Massachusetts sheriffs who said the recent stabbing by an alleged illegal immigrant, as well as the drunken driving arrests of repeat offenders in the U.S. illegally highlight the need for the program.

“What we’re finding is that people see Massachusetts as a place to go to lay below the radar,” said Bristol County Sheriff Thomas Hodgson. “Much like terrorists, they’re looking for a place to go where no one is going to notice them.”

 

Hodgson, who on Tuesday called Patrick's stance on the issue "moronic," also said that the state has become a “magnet for illegal aliens.”

The program is expected to go into effect nationwide in 2013, but the sheriffs argued that it is needed now.

Gabriel Camacho, one of the opponents from the Somerville-based group Centro Presente, said that start date might have more to do with politics and the next election rather than public safety.

Opponents said the program allows for ethnic profiling and deports immigrants who commit minor crimes.

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