Milford, Mass., Tells Ecuador (and ICE): Enough Already!

By Jessica M. Vaughan on September 8, 2011

On August 20, Matt Denice, age 23, was out riding his motorcycle in his home town of Milford, Mass., when, according to police and witnesses, he was struck, dragged, and killed by an Ecuadoran illegal alien drunk driver, Nicolas Guaman. It was a horrific crime that has sparked widespread public outrage and renewed resentment toward Massachusetts Gov. Deval Patrick's sanctuary policies and ICE's reluctance to implement the Secure Communities program here. What I have found most interesting and refreshing, though, is the reaction of Milford officials, who have wasted no time in taking steps locally to address the conditions that encourage illegal settlement.

After offering condolences to Matt Denice's family, the first thing area law enforcement agencies did was get on the phone to ICE and demand the prompt activation of Secure Communities, so that other illegal aliens who get arrested will be removed before they cause further harm. Guaman had been arrested back in 2008 for several offenses, including assault and battery on a police officer, a fire fighter, and an EMT. Curiously, the local ICE office has said that even those charges might not have been enough for them to take an interest. Not very reassuring, given ICE's recent claims to be focusing on violent criminal aliens.

For almost a year ICE has rebuffed Massachusetts sheriffs and police chiefs who want to join Secure Communities, deferring instead to the governor's wishes not to participate out of concern that ICE might remove people who had committed only "minor" crimes. Since this tragedy in Milford, several other cities and towns have launched official discussions about joining. Angry citizens have been writing to ICE Director John Morton and the local ICE Field Office to demand action. A new state group, the Secure Communities Coalition has been formed, and one of its first tasks is to try to get a meeting with ICE. Meanwhile, several weeks ago, senior ICE officials cancelled a meeting with eastern Massachusetts sheriffs to discuss an activation schedule, but found time to come to Boston to meet with the Massachusetts Immigrant and Refugee Advocacy Coalition and other anti-immigration law enforcement groups. One Beacon Hill staffer told me today that a senior ICE official just told him that they are "still looking" to see if Secure Communities has enough support in Massachusetts for them to move forward.

But back to Milford – what can the town do without the support of state and federal government? After supporting Denice's family with candlelight vigils and other expressions of sympathy, the town's Board of Selectmen promptly announced a renewed campaign to enforce the existing zoning and occupancy laws to hold property owners responsible for illegal and unsafe apartments and multi-family dwellings that have been allowed to proliferate, harboring much of the town's illegal population. In addition, the police seem to have gotten serious about unlicensed drivers; the Milford Daily News is my local paper, and I have seen a distinct spike in the number of unlicensed driver arrests reported since the incident (see photo). I imagine Milford and other towns will soon consider an E-Verify ordinance and other measures to deter illegal hiring.

Milford protest

The most refreshing action came yesterday, at a meeting requested by the Ecuadoran consul, Beatriz Stein, and her "immigration director"(?!), Pablo Calle, to try to defuse tensions. They were greeted by a crowd of hundreds of protesters demanding an end to sanctuary policies and better immigration law enforcement. Stein offered platitudes about the need for Ecuadorans to obey U.S. laws. Calle shrugged off the concerns, saying "there is no easy answer to this problem." (This is actually an improvement over, say, the Mexican consulate's typical approach, which would be to demand that U.S. and state laws not be enforced.)

Not satisfied, the Selectmen asked the diplomats to come back in a month with a report on what the Ecuadorans planned to do to resolve the situation. Board chair Dino DeBartolomeis told Stein and Calle that they needed to do something about their citizens who drive without licenses, drink excessively, and live and work in Milford illegally. "It's put a strain on the community, it's put a strain on the schools, the hospitals, the housing, the courts. It's just not a situation we can tolerate," said DeBartolomeis. He told them he expected them to meet with town officials over the next few months to come up with some answers. I can't wait to hear them, and kudos for the town of Milford for making the government of Ecuador squirm a little.