- Associated Press - Wednesday, May 21, 2014

SOMERVILLE, Mass. (AP) - Somerville will be the first community in Massachusetts to bar city police from detaining individuals simply because of their immigration status, its mayor said Wednesday.

Mayor Joseph Curtatone plans to sign an executive order Thursday removing the Boston suburb from participating in the federal Secure Communities Act.

“This program just tears apart families who have committed no crimes,” Curtatone said at a press conference outside the city hall. “It deports law-abiding citizens for offenses as small as a broken taillight.”

Under federal law, police can hold immigrants for up to 48 hours even if they have been ordered released or paid bail.

But Somerville police will only hold someone for U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement if the agency has a criminal warrant or if there is a “legitimate law enforcement purpose” beyond immigration status, the mayor said. Connecticut and California also have similar measures.

Acting Somerville police Chief Charles Femino said the current rule has discouraged victims and witnesses of crimes from cooperating with police.

“It has built a wall between police and the community so they’re afraid to come forward with important information,” Femino said. Less than a dozen immigrants have been detained in the past few years, he said.

About half of the 1,400 immigrants deported from Massachusetts since 2012 were convicted of a crime.

Daniel Modricker, a spokesman for U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement, said in a written statement that their office “will continue to work cooperatively with law-enforcement partners” as they seek to remove “convicted criminals and others who are public-safety threats.”

Last month, the Secure Communities Act was one of the tools that helped to detain two men who turned out to have been convicted of crimes in their home countries - one of murder and the other of rape. They had been living outside of Boston for several years.

The Federation for American Immigration Reform, which supports the Secure Communities Act, said local police must give ICE time to ensure that individuals brought in are not wanted. FAIR spokesman Ira Mehlman said otherwise convicted criminals could be put back on the street.

“It is not up to the Somerville Police Department to make that determination,” Mehlman said.