The number of immigrants jailed for deportation in New England plunged last year, despite federal immigration officials’ expansion of a controversial program designed to catch illegal immigrants.
While jailings nationally dipped less than 8 percent, federal officials said that in New England they dropped almost 28 percent. A total of 3,644 immigrants were jailed last fiscal year in this region, down from 5,042 the year before.
Federal officials say the figures here and nationwide reflect an effort to focus specifically on deporting recent border crossers and immigrants with criminal records, a narrower subset of the illegal immigrant population.
Advocates for immigrants hailed the shift and are pressing officials to release even more immigrants from jail. But others say that the shift is perplexing because the federal government dramatically expanded the Secure Communities fingerprinting program last year in New England, increasing its ability to detect immigrants here illegally. Some say the expansion was expected to lead to more jailings, not fewer.
One theory is that in New England, and especially in Massachusetts, immigration officials are under pressure to lessen enforcement. “You’re seeing less enforcement and that’s part of the problem,” said Bristol County Sheriff Thomas M. Hodgson, who has seen the number of immigrant detainees at his North Dartmouth jail decline from 200 a day to as low as 150 a day. “We’ve become kind of a sanctuary state.”
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