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Illegal immigration not to blame for fatality, Patrick says

Governor Deval Patrick said yesterday that he shared the community’s outrage over the death of a 23-year-old Milford man struck last week by an alleged drunk driver who was also an illegal immigrant. But the governor urged people not to blame the death on illegal immigration.

Matthew Denice was on his motorcycle last Saturday when he was hit in Milford and dragged for a quarter-mile. Nicolas Guaman, a 34-year-old immigrant from Ecuador, has pleaded not guilty to charges that include vehicular homicide while under the influence.

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“It’s a terrible, terrible tragedy,’’ Patrick said at the end of a news conference about preparations for Hurricane Irene. But, he added, “Illegal immigration didn’t kill this person. A drunk driver killed this person, and we have laws about that. And I expect the book to be thrown at this person.’’

Denice’s death reignited the state’s debate over illegal immigration and renewed calls on Patrick to have the state join the federal Secure Communities program, which would screen the fingerprints of everyone under arrest to find and deport serious criminals who are illegally in the country.

Patrick favors deporting convicted criminals but he rejected the Secure Communities program in June because it was also sweeping up illegal immigrants who did not have criminal records. He has said it is up to the federal government to address the nationwide problem of illegal immigration.

Proponents of Secure Communities, such as Senator Richard T. Moore, an Uxbridge Democrat, have said that it is unclear if the program would have caught Guaman earlier, but it could help others in the future.

“While it’s not clear that the Secure Communities program would have helped to prevent this tragedy, your agreeing to enlist Massachusetts in the program would, at least, be official recognition that we must take steps to protect the public from those who flout the law,’’ Moore wrote to the governor after Denice’s death.

Guaman had a string of traffic violations on his driving record dating to 2007, including driving without a license. Also, Milford police arrested him in early 2008 for charges that included assault and battery on a police officer and breaking and entering. That case was continued without a finding for one year.

Guaman is currently being held on $100,000 bail in Worcester County jail.

Federal officials have said the Secure Communities program will become mandatory nationwide by the end of 2013, despite the governor’s opposition.

Maria Sacchetti can be reached at msacchetti@globe.com.
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