Friday, October 8, 2010

MA: US pushes state to join security plan

There is no doubt that the Obama administration is correct in giving the removal of criminal illegals high priority but the refusal to remove other illegals that have come to attention is a plain dereliction of duty

Federal officials say they are compelling Massachusetts law enforcement agencies, including the State Police, to join a national program that checks the immigration status of everyone arrested and fingerprinted by 2013, officials said yesterday.

The planned rollout of the federal Secure Communities program has state officials, nonprofits, and local police chiefs scrambling to determine the program’s impact in Massachusetts and whether it conflicts with a policy barring the State Police from enforcing immigration law.

Meanwhile, organizations that work with immigrants launched a series of community meetings last night to alert them to the the new initiative.

The immigration checks would mark a dramatic shift for Massachusetts, where Boston is the only community to participate in the program. Police in other communities have largely avoided helping to enforce federal immigration laws over fears that it would discourage immigrants from coming forward to report crime. In 2007, Governor Deval Patrick reversed a plan by Governor Mitt Romney to have the State Police enforce immigration law, preferring to have the prisons do it instead.

Federal immigration officials have been trying to expand in the state for at least a year and hoped to be in half the state’s counties by now, officials said. In 2009, the US Bureau of Immigration and Customs Enforcement sent a letter urging state officials to sign a memorandum to “establish a solid foundation’’ for “bringing counties and police departments online.’’

The document was never signed, a fact that has drawn criticism from Patrick’s rivals in the governor’s race. Republican Charles D. Baker and independent Timothy P. Cahill have accused the administration of delaying expansion of the Secure Communities program.

John Grossman, an undersecretary at the state’s Executive Office of Public Safety, denied that the Patrick administration had delayed the program’s expansion. He said he had viewed ICE’s request to sign an agreement as an unnecessary formality.

“It was our understanding that they didn’t need us to do anything in order to go forward and deploy this program,’’ he said. “They didn’t have us sign anything before they deployed in Boston,’’ which served as a pilot for the program in 2006, two years before it officially became Secure Communities.

Grossman said the state is still waiting for clearer signals from the federal government about the program’s schedule for expansion here.

Brian P. Hale, spokesman for ICE, would not comment on the reasons for the delay in Massachusetts but said they were working with the Patrick administration to take Secure Communities statewide.

“It’s all about . . . making sure the deployment is done in the right way,’’ Hale said. “A lot of that requires some negotiations. We want to make sure the deployment in Massachusetts meets the common goal that we have, which is to take criminals off the streets and protect our communities.’’

Grossman said the administration still has not said whether it supports the Secure Communities program in principle. “We have not taken a position yet because we are defining with ICE what that means,’’ said Grossman. “We do have a position that serious criminals who are in this country illegally ought to be deported. But we also need to understand the parameters of this program.’’

The goal of Secure Communities is to ensure that dangerous criminals are detained and deported, but it is raising concern nationwide that it is also netting minor offenders.

Under the Secure Communities program, in which FBI and immigration databases are linked, the process of booking people who are arrested would automatically determine if they have criminal histories and alert federal immigration officials if they are in the country illegally, Hale said.

Federal officials say that Secure Communities does not require local and state police to enforce immigration law. Only federal immigration officials will decide whether to hold a person for deportation.

But the new program still made some officials uncomfortable. Many police agencies in Massachusetts work with ICE to arrest criminals, but they avoid targeting immigrants without legal papers, typically a civil violation, because they fear it could deter them from reporting crime.

In Chelsea, Police Chief Brian Kyes worried that Secure Communities could erode trust in his city, where nearly 38 percent of the city’s residents are immigrants.

“It would be a huge change from what we’re doing now,’’ said Kyes. “This is something the Chelsea police would not want to be a part of. It’s my belief that it would be counterproductive to the relationships we’ve formed and the trust and confidence between the police and the community in the past few years.’’

But in neighboring Everett, Chief Steven Mazzie praised the program. He said ICE would probably only have the staff to target major criminals.

“We have a large immigrant population over here, but at that point if someone’s under arrest for a criminal matter, I see it only as a tool that we can use to get criminals off the street,’’ Mazzie said. “I see it doing nothing but helping us keep our communities safer by removing people that don’t belong here, people that are committing criminal activity.’’

A concern among immigrant advocates is that the program could be used to identify illegal immigrants whether or not they had committed major crimes.

In Boston, where 27.5 percent of residents are foreign born, Boston police have turned over 526 people to federal immigration officials since 2008; of those, 246, or slightly less than half, were picked up on noncriminal immigration violations, according to federal records. The rest were criminals.

Police Commissioner Edward Davis has said that he was confident that all were involved in criminal activity, though some had records from other states, which he said would not have registered in those statistics.

His assertion could not be independently verified because ICE and police declined to release their names, citing privacy laws or policies.

Last night, Centro Presente, a statewide nonprofit that advocates for immigrants, held a meeting in Somerville to inform immigrants about the program, and another is planned for next week in Boston, said Patricia Montes, executive director of the center. The ACLU of Massachusetts also opposes the program’s expansion. “It really goes back on Massachusetts’ promise not to enforce immigration law locally,’’ said Laura RĂ³tolo, an ACLU attorney.

Other groups praised the program, saying it is wise for local and state and federal police to share information. “It seems it should be a no-controversy item,’’ said Steve Kropper, cochairman of Massachusetts Citizens for Immigration Reform, a group favoring tougher limits on immigration. “We’re very supportive of these kind of checks.’’


That fabled ‘Big Australia’

By Oliver Marc Hartwich and Jessica Brown

(Dr Hartwich is a German economist with a sense of humour. What next? A German philosopher with a sense of humour? Maybe not. But since Dr Hartwich now lives in Australia, maybe I should refer to him as "Ollie")

Your Most Gracious Majesty,

It is our duty to inform You that the prospects for population growth in Australia are not good. The Royal Commission tasked with planning Australia’s demographic and economic future hath come to the unfortunate conclusion that the obstacles are simply too great. The optimistic vision of a ‘Big Australia’ will never come true.

The noble commissioners have consulted widely and extensively. But, for growth proponents, our conclusion maketh uncomfortable reading.

The challenges are so numerous that it is hard to know where to start. Housing is undeniably a most serious concern. The lack of capacity in the building industry is quite obvious.

The planning profession doth not have the necessary skills and personnel to cope with rapid growth. Uncertain planning guidelines and objectives further complicate the task. It will take years to design and implement a planning system that can deal with the expected population increases.

The acute housing shortage is not the only difficulty. There are severe infrastructure bottlenecks. Port facilities are already overstretched. Developing appropriate mass transport for goods and people will also require minor engineering miracles, given the country’s challenging geography. Just think of Sydney harbour!

Worst of all, the water supply is under threat. It hath become clear that Australia’s climate is unsuited to hosting a larger population. The limits to population growth are well within sight.

The resident population hath been able to cope with these environmental challenges by employing a number of sophisticated water-saving solutions. But simply adding more people to the equation will just not work. If population growth goes on in the fashion that the crazy ‘Big Australia’ advocates suggest, there will simply not be enough food.

The problems of housing, water and transport should be impetus enough to stop the ambitious plans for decades of strong population growth. It is most unfortunate they are only the beginning.

The deeper we dig into the population puzzle, the more daunting the problems we encounter. Schools and universities, hospitals and doctors, sewerage systems and rubbish collection: each poseth an enormous policy challenge, and each requireth gigantic amounts from HM Treasury.

Unfortunately, the commission’s ‘Big Australia’ report alloweth only one conclusion. It is with deepest regret that we commend to order Captain Arthur Phillip to turn back his fleet and set sail for England, our green and pleasant land.

If you don’t like taking policy advice from fables, read our latest report instead: ‘Populate and Perish? Modelling Australia’s Demographic Future’ by Jessica Brown and Oliver Marc Hartwich. You can also watch the authors discuss their research on YouTube.

For non-Australian readers: Captain Arthur Phillip was the commander of the first fleet of English people to arrive in Australia -- in 1788. The above is a press release from the Centre for Independent Studies, dated 8 October. Enquiries to Snail mail: PO Box 92, St Leonards, NSW, Australia 1590. Below is the executive summary of the report referred to

Executive Summary

Although population growth has been one of the most hotly debated topics in recent months, public discussions have been driven by populism, not by evidence-based analysis. In the recent federal election, both Labor and the Coalition seemed to suggest that they could—and would—limit population growth, particularly by restricting migration. The Greens went a step further by endorsing a population cap.

But these platitudes overlook a fundamental fact. Under every realistic scenario, Australia’s population is going to keep growing. Australians will also keep getting older—a fact often neglected in the current debate—which will have huge implications for our future policy environment.

Under all but one of the 36 scenarios modelled in this report, Australia’s population will grow. Only with zero net migration and falling fertility—which is practically unachievable and widely regarded as undesirable—would Australia’s population shrink or stabilise. Some degree of population growth is an inevitable reality.

By focussing on cutting migration as a way to limiting population growth, the current public debate has also ignored the role of fertility—which matters as much if not more—in determining population size and age distribution. Anti-growth campaigners suggest that if migration were reduced, we could somehow stabilise population growth. But this is not true. Even if migration were more than halved to 70,000 a year (which we do not advocate), we would still have a population of more than 29 million by 2050 if fertility remained constant.

It is extremely difficult to predict the future of Australian demographics. Changes in the birth rate are hard to predict and even harder to control, yet they will potentially have a bigger impact on population size than migration. Under every scenario, Australia’s population will get older.

However, it is fertility—not migration—that has the biggest impact on population ageing. Increased migration is not the solution to population ageing. If fertility rate drops from its current level of 1.97 to 1.5, the current European Union average, median age will rise from 37 today to nearly 46 in 2050—higher if migration levels are cut.

Under all the most realistic scenarios, more than 20% of Australians will be over 65 by 2050. And regardless of changes in migration and fertility, the number of Australians aged 80 or over will more than double to about 2 million by 2050.

There will be far fewer taxpayers under every scenario. We need to plan for population ageing. There is a trade-off. A faster growing population will require investment in housing and infrastructure; it will also be younger and better able to meet these costs. A more slowly growing population will require fewer investments in housing, roads and schools but will be significantly older, which means the cost of health care and pensions will rise while the tax base falls.

Both population growth and population ageing will happen no matter what, but the degree to which we have to deal with the challenges will depend on the policy choices we make now about migration as well as future changes in the birth rate and life expectancy. No one can know exactly how these variables will change in the future, which means no government can accurately predict what Australia’s population will look like.

Population targets are unrealistic. We cannot plan our demographic future. However, we can be fairly confident in predicting that Australia’s population will both grow and get older—we just don’t know by how much. The best that policymakers can do is make existing institutions more flexible so they can better cope with whichever population scenario emerges.

Politicians should stop pretending that they can control what Australia’s future population will look like. Instead, they should turn their attention to the real policy issues that will be affected by population growth and ageing: housing, roads, pensions and our natural environment.

The debate should not be about whether we will have a ‘big Australia’ or a ‘small Australia’ but about how we can make a growing Australia work and how we can make it a prosperous and liveable place for us all.

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