Category Archives: Press Releases

PR: Arturo Venegas Sets Example for Failed DHS Taskforce. Resignation Makes Former Sacramento Chief Hero in Immigrant Communities

Arturo Venegas Sets Example for Failed DHS Taskforce. Resignation Makes Former Sacramento Chief Hero in Immigrant Communities
Prominent Rights Groups say “End it Don’t Mend It” in Hard-Hitting Parallel Report

09.15.2011– Washington DC.
See Complete Report Here: http://altopolimigra.com/s-comm-shadow-report/

After a firestorm of controversy over the Secure Communities deportation program (or “SCOMM”), a committee charged with providing recommendations to the Department of Homeland Security has failed to reach consensus with taskforce members beginning to resign.

Click here to view Arturo Venegas resignation letter (PDF).

Sarahi Uribe of the National Day Laborer Organizing Network praised the first to resign, “”Arturo Venegas is setting the example and leading the way for taskforce members to match the courage of those who stood up at taskforce hearings calling for an end of the program. His resignation today makes him a hero in the immigrant community.”

The Secure Communities Task Force was widely viewed as an effort by DHS to dampen growing criticism of the discredited program rather than an earnest attempt to seek input from the program’s detractors. In contrast to the DHS task force, a broad coalition of experts achieved complete consensus in a shadow report recommending the complete termination of SCOMM.

Chris Newman, Legal Director of the National Day Laborer Organizing Network issued the following statement:
“Rather than sweep SCOMM’s catastrophic flaws under a rug, the administration should end the program. DHS has used unprecedented deception to sell a dangerous program to the American public, and its use of this task force is no different. It is clear DHS set the task force up as a ruse to cover up its colossal failure, but it didn’t work.

“The task force report will only lead to more controversy over SCOMM as questions are raised about why it couldn’t achieve consensus, and as everyone now watches to see whether the White House will finally hold DHS accountable.

“S-Comm is leading to the ‘Arizonification’ of the United States. Immediate suspension pending a genuine review by the Inspector General will be required to regain public trust in DHS. An end to the program will be required to advance the goal of immigration reform.”

Background on Parallel Report:
“The Secure Communities program should be ended,” is the central recommendation of a report authored by broad coalition of prominent local and national immigrant rights group and endorsed by over 150 organizations. The report, which features the voices of law enforcement, judges, academics, and directly impacted individuals, chronicles the deception of Immigration and Customs Enforcement uncovered through FOIA litigation, local organizing, and advocacy. The report clearly lays out demonstrable negative impacts SCOMM has had on community safety and civil rights.

For example, Ron Hampton president of Black Law Enforcement in America writes in the report, “Opposition to Secure Communities “is rooted in common sense: counties and states across the country rely on the relationships of the communities they serve to combat and solve crime. It is foolish to sever this tie in order to enforce civil immigration law.”
Echoing the concerns of other law enforcement officials and experts, Robert Morgenthau, former New York City District Attorney, wrote in the report, “When immigrants perceive the local police force as merely an arm of the federal immigration authority, they become reluctant to report criminal activity for fear of being turned over to federal officials.”
The report also included the testimony of Joaquin, a resident of Homestead, Florida who was wrongfully arrested and assaulted by police and now faces deportation because of the Secure Communities program. He wrote, “I never committed a crime but now I am facing going back to my country. My plans, my dreams, everything was changed.

Background on the Secure Communities Task Force:
The task force has been discredited by the immigrant rights movement since its inception. Shortly after its creation 200 organizations, including civil rights groups, labor, faith as well as some law enforcement leaders sent a letter to John Morton, ICE’s director, on July 20th raising concern about the scope of the task force, its lack of transparency, and its inadequate process to review the program in light of the pending Department of Homeland Security Office of Inspector General audit. Groups urged ICE to immediately suspend the program.

A second letter with over 160 groups was sent to the task force asking them to resign following the August 5th, announcement by ICE that the agency would unilaterally terminate all agreements and impose the program on all cities and states despite objections that the program damages public safety and the decisions of Illinois, New York, and Massachusetts to not participation in the program. (attached) The agency’s shift to make the program an unfunded mandate after two years of operation and over 43 Memorandums of Agreements signed with states (they included termination clauses), defied basic democratic principles and further exposed the agency as rogue and lacking any regard for the “nation’s courts, local and state law-makers, law enforcement, and communities—much less this task force.”

At community hearings held this summer by the task force in Dallas, Los Angeles, Illinois, and Arlington, Virginia the members were met with massive protests, walk outs, acts of civil disobedience, and calls to resign from the “sham” task force and to end the program.
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Press Release: Secure Communities Scrutiny Expands to FBI

For Immediate Release
Contact: Jessica Karp, NDLON, 917-855-7682

Secure Communities Scrutiny Expands to FBI
Advocates call for investigation of FBI’s role in deportation program after disturbing surveillance program is revealed by FOIA documents.

Sign-on Letter (PDF)

Appendix (PDF)

September 12, 2011 – Washington, DC. Yesterday, on the tenth anniversary of September 11th, 70 civil rights, immigrants’ rights, and privacy rights groups sent a letter calling on the Department of Justice (DOJ) to investigate the FBI’s role in the controversial Secure Communities deportation program (S-Comm) and the Next Generation Identification (NGI) initiative.   The letter urged an immediate Inspector General audit of both programs.

Documents obtained through Freedom of Information Act litigation by the National Day Laborer Organizing Network, the Center for Constitutional Rights, and the Cardozo Immigration Justice Clinic revealed that S-Comm is the first step in NGI, an unprecedented, billion dollar initiative to create the world’s largest biometric database. NGI will expand on S-Comm by forcing greater collection and dissemination of personal information between federal agencies, without the consent of the states that provide the information.  NGI will also expand the types of information collected to include iris scans, palm prints, and facial recognition scans, along with the traditional fingerprints.  Both NGI and S-Comm have their roots in the post-September 11th expansion of domestic surveillance and corresponding weakening of privacy protections.

Chris Newman, Legal Programs Director at the National Day Laborer Organizing Network said:  “An unfortunate legacy of 9/11 is the onset of a culture of suspicion that conflated fear of terrorists with fear of immigrants.  Secretive and misguided programs like S-Comm contributed to this pernicious fear of newcomers.  Ten years after 9/11, there is now a vibrant national discussion about how to preserve security without jettisoning core constitutional values.  While many may disagree about how to strike an appropriate balance, we can all agree transparency from the very agencies charged with keeping us safe is absolutely essential.  The Department of Justice Office of Inspector General must immediately audit the FBI’s role in S-Comm and the so-called Next Generation Identification Initiative.”

Jessica Karp, Staff Attorney with the National Day Laborer Organizing Network said:  “S-Comm has been plagued with problems since it began.  ICE is now under investigation for lying to Congress, states, and localities about the program’s scope and the role of state and local partners.  Illinois, New York, Massachusetts, and many of the nation’s largest cities have said they want no part of S-Comm.  They are concerned that it undermines public safety while encouraging pretextual arrests and racial profiling.  An investigation of the FBI’s role in this controversial program is urgently needed.  The Inspector General must also investigate the extent to which the problems associated with S-Comm are common to the Next Generation Identification initiative as a whole.”

PR: ICE Announcement throws discredited deportation program into further disarray and confusion

Press Release from NDLON:

ICE Announcement throws discredited deportation program into further disarray and confusion.
Rogue Agency Ignores Governors, Courts, and Democratic Process

08.05.2011– DHS Cannot Rule by Decree

In a shocking announcement by ICE late Friday afternoon announcement where the agency announced its attempt to unilaterally nullify years of contracts and agreements with 39 state partners. The agency will inform state officials that participation in the controversial Secure Communities program which is currently under investigation by the Office of the Inspector General and which is the subject of intense criticism, is mandatory.

Chris Newman, Legal Director of the National Day Laborer Organizing Network issued this statement:

“Today’s announcement confirms ICE’s status as a rogue agency. The level of deception involved in S-Comm so far has been alarming , but this moves things to another level. A contract is a contract—but apparently not when it comes to ICE.

A federal judge already found that DHS and ICE went out of their way to mislead the public about Secure Communities. Today’s announcement shows that ICE also systematically misled the states, engaging in protracted negotiations–at substantial cost to the American public–for what it now claims are sham contracts.

All the deception in the world can’t hide the fact that the S-Comm is horrible policy. By entangling local police in immigration enforcement, S-Comm is criminalizing immigrants and leading to the Arizonification of the country. Ultimately, the announcement today only puts into further question the legal basis for the program. ICE can no longer be trusted to police itself.”

District Court Rejects DHS and ICE FOIA Withholdings That Conceal Misrepresentations and Embarrassment (PR)

PRESS RELEASE

District Court Rejects DHS and ICE FOIA Withholdings That Conceal Misrepresentations and Embarrassment
Government Agencies Must Release Documents Explaining Its Misleading Public Representations about Secure Communities

July 11, 2011, New York – In a victory today for plaintiffs the National Day Laborer Organizing Network, the Center for Constitutional Rights, and the Cardozo Law School Immigration Justice Clinic in their Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) lawsuit against Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE), the Department of Homeland Security (DHS), and the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI), the Executive Office of Immigration Review (EOIR), Judge Shira A. Scheindlin of the Southern District of New York ordered the agencies to produce further information concerning whether and how localities may “opt-out” or limit participation  participation in Secure Communities. Secure Communities functions as a deportation dragnet to funnel non-citizens into the mismanaged ICE detention and removal system. The program automatically runs fingerprints through immigration databases for all people arrested and targets them for detention and deportation. The program currently operates in almost 1,400 jurisdictions in 43 states. Set for expansion nationwide, Massachusetts, Illinois, New York and several local jurisdictions have informed immigration authorities they do not want to participate in the program.

In a strongly worded opinion, the court rejected the agencies’ efforts to withhold documents that would reveal embarrassing or misleading information about Secure Communities.  Timely disclosure of these records is especially critical in light of the ongoing public scrutiny of Secure Communities.  As a result of the disclosures in this case, public pressure and mounting concerns by public officials, the Office of Inspector General is beginning an investigation today into the agency’s misrepresentations of the Secure Communities opt-out policy and the program’s failure to fulfill its stated mandate. Simultaneously, DHS has initiated an advisory commission to examine the limited issue of individuals targeted through Secure Communities after being arrested for minor traffic offenses. Today’s order makes clear that the OIG’s review is sorely needed and that the problems with the program run much deeper than the traffic offense-related issues that the DHS-appointed commission is considering.

Sunita Patel, Center for Constitutional Rights staff attorney said, “The court refused to allow the government to withhold documents that merely discuss how to spin an agency policy for the public, especially when the agency’s messaging is purposefully misleading. The release of the information improperly withheld from the public will only help public officials and community members in the on-going Secure Communities debate.”

The court vindicated the role of FOIA to challenge the government’s effort to hide the true nature of Secure Communities from the public, “Deliberations about how to present an already decided policy to the public, or documents designed to explain that policy to—or obscure it from—the public, including in draft form, are at the heart of what should be realized under FOIA.” (Opinion, p. 29).  The Court further stated that FOIA exemptions “are not concerned with chilling agency efforts to obfuscate, which are anathema to the operation of democratic government.” Criticizing the agencies’ past public representations, the court concluded that “[t]here is ample evidence that ICE and DHS have gone out of their way to mislead the public about Secure Communities.” (Opinion, p. 32).  As the court noted, “[t]here is no risk of confusing the public by the inaccurate or premature disclosure of agency views, as the public is confused, and it is plaintiffs who seek to clarify by obtaining the release of a fuller explanation of agency views.” (Opinion, p. 61)  As a result, the court ordered that documents discussing the voluntary nature of Secure Communities after January 27, 2010 and mandatory nature of the program after March 2010 are not protected by the deliberative process privilege and must be released.

“While the Obama administration boasts of the ‘Secure Communities’ program to win political points with Republicans, it has kept actual policy details nearly secret from Congress, state partners, and the American public. Thankfully, federal courts, not ICE, get the last word,” stated Pablo Alvarado, Director of NDLON. “The administration has a responsibility to be transparent and provide information to the public regarding this dangerous program. As we’ve seen in states and localities across the country, the more the public learns about ‘Secure Communities,’ the more they say ‘no thank you’ to its implementation.”

In an opinion heavily focused on providing clarifying information about the mandatory nature of the controversial Secure Communities program, the court also engaged in closed review (in camera review) of 49 documents and ordered further releases. For example, the court ordered production of an email string from the Deputy Press Secretary about what the agency’s message to the public should be about opt-in because “[t]he redacted portions are no more deliberative than those left unredacted, even if they are more embarrassing to the agency, which of course is not a relevant consideration under FOIA.” (Opinion, p.49)  “[T]he entire purpose of this FOIA is to obtain clarity as to the agency’s position, where the agency has made contradictory and confusing representations.” (Opinion, p. 49 For another document outlining the updated messaging to support ICE maintaining its position to fully use federal information sharing by 2013, the court stated that “[t]he redacted lines do not appear to be any more deliberative than the rest of the memorandum. They are, however, potentially more embarrassing, insofar as they highlight the inconsistencies in the agency’s public stance.  The purpose of FOIA is to shed light on the operation of government, not to shield it from embarrassment.” (Opinion, p. 71).  Importantly, the court refused to allow the government to withhold documents based upon a discussion of how to spin an agency policy for the public, especially when the agency’s messaging is purposefully misleading.

Said Bridget Kessler, an attorney at the Cardozo Law School Immigration Justice Clinic, “Today, the court has sent a strong message that the public’s interest in government transparency outweighs the government’s desire to save face. Our government officials cannot use laws meant to ensure transparency to withhold information from the public, especially if the only conceivable reason for preventing the release of the information is that it might be embarrassing or provide evidence of government misconduct.”

Today’s order rules on cross-motions for summary judgment by plaintiffs CCR, NDLON and Cardozo and the government on exemptions the government used to withhold records or portions of records  relating to the ability of states and localities to “opt-out” or limit their participation in Secure Communities. The government initially produced these documents on January 17, 2011. The court orders defendants to release certain categories of documents to the public. For other categories of documents, the court finds that the government did not justify the redactions and orders the government to produce new indexes detailing the justifications their redactions. If the government does not provide sufficient justification in these revised indexes, the court will order the government to produce those documents or portions of documents. Finally, the court finds that a number of the redactions by the government were justified. The court ordered the government to produce the documents and the revised indexes by August 1, 2011 and to appear in court for a conference on August 11, 2011 at 5:00 p.m.

For more information on NDLON v. ICE or to view the order, visit http://ccrjustice.org/secure-communities.

New Documents Reveal Behind-the-Scenes FBI Role in Controversial Secure Communities Deportation Program (PR)

Contact: B. Loewe, NDLON, 773.791.4668; Jen Nessel, CCR 212.614.6449, [email protected]; David Lerner, Riptide Communications 212.260.5000, [email protected]

New Documents Reveal Behind-the-Scenes FBI Role in Controversial Secure Communities Deportation Program
FBI Views Secure Communities as First Step in “Next Generation Identification” (NGI) Surveillance Project to Amass Expansive Database of Personal Biometric Information

Opt-Out Policy for Secure Communities Set by Obscure FBI Panel, Not by Law

July 6, 2011, New York and Washington – Documents obtained through Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) litigation by the National Day Laborer Organizing Network (NDLON), the Center for Constitutional Rights (CCR), and the Cardozo Law School Immigration Justice Clinic show that the controversial Secure Communities deportation program (S-Comm), designed by Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) to target people for deportation, is also a key component of a little-known FBI project to accumulate a massive store of personal biometric information on citizens and non-citizens alike.

According to the documents, S-Comm is “only the first of a number of biometric interoperability systems being brought online by the FBI ‘Next Generation Identification’ (NGI) project.” NGI will expand the FBI’s existing fingerprint database to add iris scans, palm prints, and facial recognition information for a wide range of people.

Jessica Karp of NDLON explained: “NGI is the next generation Big Brother. It’s a backdoor route to a national ID, to be carried not in a wallet, but within the body itself.  The FBI’s biometric-based project is vulnerable to hackers and national security breaches and carries serious risks of identity theft. If your biometric identity is stolen or corrupted in NGI, it will be hard to fix. Unlike an identity card or pin code, biometrics are forever.”

The misrepresentations ICE used to sell S-Comm to states have been well documented and are currently the subject of a DHS Office of the Inspector General investigation.  But to date, the FBI’s role in S-Comm has not been scrutinized, although the FBI has come under fire recently for adopting new, generalized policies that permit intrusive, suspicionlesssurveillance without adequate oversight.

Said Bridget Kessler of the Cardozo Law School Immigration Justice Clinic: “These documents provide a fascinating glimpse into the FBI’s role in forcing S-Comm on states and localities. The FBI’s desire to pave the way for the rest of the NGI project seems to have been a driving force in the policy decision to make S-Comm mandatory. But the documents also confirm that, both technologically and legally, S-Comm could have been voluntary.”
Although the documents obtained raise many more questions than answers about the FBI’s involvement in S-Comm and S-Comm’s place in the broader NGI project, they do reveal the following key facts:

The CJIS Advisory Board, which oversees the FBI’s criminal databases, passed a motion in June 2009 to recommend that the FBI convert S-Comm from a voluntary to a mandatory program at the local level.  At that time – and as much as one year later – ICE was still representing S-Comm as voluntary to state and local officials.

The FBI’s decision to support mandatory imposition of S-Comm was not driven by any legal mandate.  In fact, the FBI considered making S-Comm voluntary, showing that it viewed opting out as both a technological possibility and a lawful option.  The FBI chose the mandatory route not because of a statutory requirement, but for “record linking/maintenance purposes.”   In focusing on mundane record-keeping issues, the agency failed to weigh any of the considerations that have driven states and localities across the country to withdraw from S-Comm, including the program’s impact on community policing, its association with an increased risk of racial profiling, and its failure to comply with its announced purpose of targeting dangerous criminals.

Both FBI and immigration officials have raised concerns internally that aspects of S-Comm may interfere with privacy and invade civil liberties.  Notes from one meeting, for example, state that S-Comm “goes against privacy and civil liberties.” In another series of emails, FBI officials raised concerns that state and local users of the FBI databases would be surprised to learn that the FBI was using their data to perform searches that the users had neither requested nor authorized.

DHS may be using S-Comm to gather and store data about U.S. citizens, too.  One of the newly obtained documents indicates that US-VISIT, a component of DHS may have considered storing certain information about individuals in violation of their own internal requirements and privacy laws. This may include the retention of data about the lawful activities of even natural-born U.S. citizens.

Said Center for Constitutional Rights attorney Gitanjali Gutierrez, “These revelations should disturb us on multiple levels: the lies, the shadowy role of the FBI, the threats to citizens and non-citizens alike, and the rampant potential violations of civil liberties. This goes far beyond the irreparable S-Comm program and opens a window onto the dystopian future our government has planned. With so much at stake, this process must at all costs be transparent going forward.”  To read our briefing guide and the related documents, please visit http://uncoverthetruth.org/foia-documents/foia-ngi/ngi-documents/. To read FOIA documents and information about the case NDLON v. ICE brought by CCR, the National Day Laborer Organizing Network and the Cardozo Law School Immigration Justice Clinic, visit CCR’s legal case page at www.ccrjustice.org/secure-communities.

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