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Secure Communities is optional, Harris says (LA Times)

Dec 10th, 2012No Comments

Secure Communities is optional, Harris says
Attorney general says the U.S. program, intended to deport illegal immigrants convicted of serious crimes, had swept up too many non-criminals.
Photo: Bob Chamberlin / Los Angeles Times / September 1, 2011

By Lee Romney and Cindy Chang, Los Angeles Times
December 5, 2012, 4:40 a.m.

SAN FRANCISCO — California Atty. Gen. Kamala Harris told local law enforcement agencies Tuesday that they were not obligated to comply with a federal program whose stated goal is to deport illegal immigrants convicted of serious crimes.

It was Harris’ first public assessment of Secure Communities. Under the program launched in 2008, all arrestees’ fingerprints are sent to immigration officials, who may ask police and sheriff’s departments to hold suspects for up to 48 hours after their scheduled release so they can be transferred to federal custody.

Although the intent may have been to improve public safety, Harris said that a review of data from March through June showed that 28% of those targeted for deportation in California as a result were not criminals. Those numbers, she noted, had changed little since U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement a year earlier pledged to reform the program to focus on the most serious offenders.

“Secure Communities has not held up to what it aspired to be,” Harris said. The law enforcement bulletin she issued Tuesday stated that “immigration detainer requests are not mandatory, and each agency may make its own decision” about whether to honor them.

Harris said her office conducted its analysis after dozens of agencies across the state inquired about whether they were compelled to honor the ICE requests.

Some elected officials and local law enforcement have complained that — in addition to pulling in those found guilty of minor offenses or never convicted — Secure Communities had made illegal immigrants fearful of cooperating with police, even when they were the victims.

Harris, a former prosecutor, echoed that view Tuesday.

“I want that rape victim to be absolutely secure that if she waves down an officer in a car that she will be protected … and not fear that she’s waving down an immigration officer,” Harris said

While immigrant-rights advocates applauded her announcement, they said it did not go far enough. Allowing police chiefs and sheriffs to craft their own policies without state guidance, they said, could lead to disparate enforcement and enable racial profiling.

This “should eliminate the confusion among some sheriffs about the legal force of detainers,” said Reshma Shamasunder, executive director of the California Immigrant Policy Center. “The only logical next step is a strong, statewide standard that limits these burdensome requests.”

One attempt by legislators to do just that unraveled in October with Gov. Jerry Brown’s veto of the Trust Act. The proposed law by Assemblyman Tom Ammiano (D-San Francisco) would have forbidden police departments to honor federal detainer requests except in cases in which defendants had been convicted of a serious or violent crime.

Ammiano on Monday reintroduced a modified version of the measure. Harris said she had opposed the bill’s last iteration for going “too far” and had not seen the current version, but looked forward “to working with the governor and any of our lawmakers to take a look at what we can do to improve consistency.”

“It’s very difficult to create formulas for law enforcement,” she said, noting that local agencies should have the freedom to determine which federal hold requests to honor. For example, she said, an inmate with five previous arrests for forcible rape but no convictions might still be deemed too great a risk for release.

Some law enforcement agencies, including the San Francisco Sheriff’s Department and the Santa Clara County Sheriff’s Department, have declined to comply with federal requests to hold non-serious offenders. Los Angeles Police Chief Charlie Beck followed suit last month, announcing that suspected illegal immigrants arrested in low-level crimes would no longer be turned over for possible deportation.

Los Angeles County Sheriff Lee Baca, who opposed the Trust Act, is among those who have argued that compliance with Secure Communities was mandatory.

On Tuesday, Los Angeles County sheriff’s spokesman Steve Whitmore said that Harris’ opinion was welcome guidance that may offer sheriffs more flexibility in how they deal with immigration detainees.

“The attorney general’s opinion is going to be taken very seriously,” Whitmore said. “The sheriff applauds it and is grateful for it.” Baca, he added, has been working with the attorney general and the governor on the issue.

In a written response to Harris’ announcement, a spokeswoman for Immigration and Customs Enforcement said the agency’s top priorities were the deportation of criminals, recent border-crossers and repeat violators of immigration law.

“The federal government alone sets these priorities and places detainers on individuals arrested on criminal charges to ensure that dangerous criminal aliens and other priority individuals are not released from prisons and jails into our communities,” the statement said.

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Romney reported from San Francisco and Chang from Los Angeles.

Official: It’s up to police to hold immigrants (SF Gate)

Dec 10th, 2012No Comments

Official: It’s up to police to hold immigrants
By PAUL ELIAS, Associated Press
Updated 4:10 p.m., Tuesday, December 4, 2012

SAN FRANCISCO (AP) — California’s top prosecutor said Tuesday it’s up to local police agencies to decide whether to comply with federal government requests to hold illegal immigrants.

The statement by state Attorney General Kamala Harris involves the federal Secure Communities program, which was launched in 2008 to catch the worst criminal offenders.

Governors in New York, Illinois and Massachusetts previously announced their desire to pull out of the program in 2011, and various municipalities and counties around the country have withheld cooperation or expressed opposition.

States such as Colorado and Arizona have supported the program since its inception.

The Obama administration said in June 2011 that it would reform the program to target only the most serious threats to public safety.

Harris said Tuesday the program is still “flawed” because nearly one-third of the people targeted by the requests in California have never been convicted of a crime.

Immigration and Customs Enforcement statistics indicate that 2,388 illegal immigrants with no convictions were detained and deported after arrests in California under the program between March 1 and June 30.

Another 1,955 were deported after misdemeanor convictions during the same period, while 4,094 convicted felons were deported.

The Secure Communities program checks the immigration status of people who are arrested for any crime, and federal immigration officials have insisted local police agencies must honor all requests for detentions.

Harris said her office has received dozens of inquiries from sheriffs and police chiefs confused about whether they must comply and hold detainees for up to 48 hours after they otherwise would have been released.

Los Angeles Police Chief Charlie Beck and others have said they want to stop honoring the immigration detention requests in cases involving low-level crimes.

“In the interest of public safety, it is our recommendation that those chiefs and sheriffs make a decision about whether or not they will detain an illegal immigrant based on their priorities,” Harris said.

In a bulletin, she pointed out that the federal government neither reimburses the local police agencies nor protects them from lawsuits for wrongful arrests.

She also asserted that the federal government can’t “require state officials to carry out federal programs at their own expense.”

Last fall, Gov. Jerry Brown vetoed a bill to limit law enforcement involvement with Secure Communities, which has been blasted by immigrant advocates who say it deters the reporting of crime because people are afraid to come forward. A similar bill was reintroduced this week in the state Legislature.

The California State Sheriffs Association, which opposed the original state bill, said it was reviewing Harris’ position before commenting.

Santa Clara County and Cook County, Ill., among others, previously stopped honoring immigration detainers under the program.

The program is being reformed to focus “on criminals, recent border crossers and repeat immigration law violators” as targets for deportation, Immigration and Customs Enforcement spokeswoman Lori Haley said.

“ICE is committed to continuing to work with local law enforcement to promote public safety and address potential threats to our communities,” Haley said.

Critics say immigration program detains less serious offenders (Press Democrat)

Dec 10th, 2012No Comments

Critics say immigration program detains less serious offenders
By JEREMY HAY
THE PRESS DEMOCRAT
Published: Saturday, November 24, 2012 at 7:24 p.m.
Last Modified: Saturday, November 24, 2012 at 7:24 p.m.

The chief goal of the federal Secure Communities program, in place in Sonoma County since March 2010, is to identify, detain and deport dangerous illegal immigrants.

But since the program took effect, critics have said that it actually catches up as many, if not more, people guilty of offenses that most consider minor, such as driving without a license or shoplifting. Such was the case of Jacobo Farias-Chavez of Santa Rosa, who was pulled over for a traffic violation.

Sonoma County advocates for illegal immigrants’ rights are heartened by a steep drop in the number of people handed over to immigration authorities, a drop coinciding with local police agencies’ decisions to accept Mexican consular cards as valid identification.

But they remain concerned that Secure Communities is still snaring many people who are far from the violent felons the program aims to nab.

“I don’t know anyone in my files who had a serious crime in their background,” said Santa Rosa immigration attorney Michelle Crawford.

Farias-Chavez, 32, of Santa Rosa did not have a consular card when Petaluma police pulled him over Sept. 12 for making an illegal turn across a double yellow line. He was booked into the Sonoma County Jail on that charge and also for driving without a license.

Though Farias-Chavez ultimately was not charged in either offense, his identifying information was sent to Immigration and Customs Enforcement, or ICE, and he was quickly placed into deportation proceedings.

Free on $1,500 bail, the self-employed landscaper, who has three disabled children and, according to court records, no criminal history, said he lives now in a haze of worry.

“I think I’ve been a good member of society,” he said. “I’ve worked, I’ve paid taxes, followed the rules.”

Drawing a line between who should and shouldn’t be automatically put into deportation proceedings is a difficult task, said Terry Tomasini of Sebastopol, a former director of the North Bay Patriots, a group aligned with the tea party political movement.

“If we’ve got people who are ethical, moral people that are actually trying to make a living, they’re not abusing our entitlements and are just trying to better themselves, they certainly are not a practical drag or harm,” he said.

“But the precedent that has been set (by the matricula policy) absolutely opens a floodgate,” he said. “It’s a troubling situation with no easy answer.”

ICE, of course, has the authority to detain and deport anyone who is in the country without permission, whether or not they have a criminal history.

But after border security operations, Secure Communities is the chief channel through which illegal immigrants are sent into deportation proceedings.

And determining how many people caught in a program aimed at violent felons fit that profile — and how many do not — is a preoccupation of critics.

While ICE data shows that far fewer people are being handed over to the agency from Sonoma County — 484 in the past 12 months, compared to 921 in the first year — it is far less clear about who they are.

“I’d like to see a breakdown of the numbers. How many have felony convictions?” said Richard Coshnear, a Santa Rosa immigration attorney and a vocal Secure Communities opponent.

The Sheriff’s Office has declined numerous requests for specific information about those people it has turned over to ICE, such as the crimes for which they were arrested or how many were known to be gang members.

But according to ICE, of 921 people handed over to it during the program’s first year, the agency designated 658 as “noncriminals” — meaning they were not charged following their arrest or had not been convicted of a local offense.

Since then, getting information about people turned over to the agency has grown harder because ICE has eliminated the “noncriminal” category. It has been replaced with three categories of immigration violations, including for people previously deported or who have over-stayed their visas.

ICE also stopped routinely reporting how many people had been turned over to the agency, as well as information about their criminal histories.

For example, ICE did not provide a breakdown by criminal category of the 484 people handed over by Sonoma County authorities since October 2011.

But records show that of the 1,426 people flagged in that period as possible violators of immigration laws — which made them subject to further investigation to determine whether they should be handed over — 323 were in the most serious Level 1 category of criminal violator.

The “Level 1” designation includes people convicted of major drug offenses and violent crimes such as murder, rape, manslaughter and robbery.

More than two-thirds of the people flagged by ICE at the county jail were Level 2 or 3 offenders, which include people guilty of minor drug and property crimes such as burglary, larceny and fraud, and those convicted of offenses punishable by less than one year in jail.

In all, since March 2010, of 1,078 people deported through Secure Communities in Sonoma County, 237 were in the Level 1 category; 530 were in Level 2 or 3; and 311 were in immigration violation categories.

Guillermo Ortiz fell in Level 2 and also had broken immigration laws by returning to the country illegally after having been deported, a felony.

The 37-year-old Santa Rosa man missed a community service commitment in June because he was in the hospital, according to documents produced by his wife, Olga Jiminez.

Ortiz was on probation following a 2010 conviction for allowing his house to be used by someone else to grow marijuana, court records showed.

He was arrested on Aug. 24 and, in September, deported for the third time.

Now Jiminez, a U.S. citizen, struggles to raise her three children alone.

“The hardest time for me is during the day, when I’m alone,” she said. “My mind starts thinking and thinking … I know that he made a mistake, I know that he’s not perfect. But I think that the judge should have given him a chance.”

You can reach Staff Writer Jeremy Hay at 521-5212.

Immigrant’s detainment sparks outcry (Yale Daily News)

Nov 7th, 2012No Comments

Immigrant’s detainment sparks outcry
A crowd gathered in front of City Hall on Thursday to show solidarity for immigrant rights.
By Nicole Narea, Clinton Wang
Contributing Reporter and Staff Reporter

Photo by Jacob Geiger.

Friday, November 2, 2012

Juana Islas, a New Haven resident and undocumented Mexican immigrant, broke down in tears before a crowd gathered at City Hall Thursday evening as she recounted the story of how her brother Josemaria Islas may now face deportation after having just settled felony charges.

Josemaria Islas, who is currently in the custody of Immigration and Customs Enforcement, or ICE, was arrested last July by the Hamden police investigating an attempted armed robbery. Though the victim identified Islas as the perpetrator, he was not convicted of any crime due to a lack of evidence, and instead he enrolled in a state rehabilitation program allowing individuals charged with non-serious crimes to have charges waived after a period of probation. But rather than releasing Islas to move forward with rehabilitation, judicial marshals continued to detain him in voluntary compliance with an ICE hold request, which may lead to his deportation. But immigrant rights advocates are criticizing the judicial marshals’ decision to honor the hold request — authorized under the federal Secure Communities program — because Gov. Dannel Malloy had previously promised in March not to comply with hold requests for non-violent offenders.

Secure Communities, which was implemented statewide Feb. 22, allows ICE officials to check police fingerprints of criminal suspects against ICE and FBI databases in an effort to deport criminals residing in the country illegally. When ICE officials believe a suspect may be undocumented, they can issue a detainment request asking the state to hold the individual in custody pending deportation proceedings. But the program has faced heated criticism from immigrant rights groups and members of the Latino community as unnecessarily targeting non-violent criminals and undermining community policing. In an effort to curb the program’s implementation, Malloy announced in March that Connecticut would only honor detainment requests for serious offenders who meet certain objective criteria, and given that Islas has not been convicted of a crime, his detention has incited further criticism of Secure Communities.

Advocacy groups rallied to protest Islas’ detention at a press conference that drew 17 people including members of the Islas family, advocacy group Unidad Latina en Acción (ULA), a City Hall representative and members of the Divinity School student organization, Seminarians for a Democratic Society. Prior to his arrest, Islas was a volunteer for ULA and an advocate for immigration rights.

ULA pressed Malloy to urge Secretary of Homeland Security Janet Napolitano to dismiss Islas’ case and develop a clear policy to address Secure Communities detainment requests. ULA volunteer Megan Fountain ’07 said that Mike Lawlor, Connecticut’s undersecretary for criminal justice policy and planning, had betrayed his promise that Islas would not be transferred to ICE custody and demanded that the state “develop a much clearer position” on the enforcement of Secure Communities.

“There still is no cohesive or transparent standard of dealing with ICE hold requests,” Fountain said.

Lawlor, however, said Malloy is already a vocal critic of Secure Communities. Malloy ordered an investigation of the program in July and announced he would only honor detainment requests for serious offenders such as convicted criminals, gang members and suspected terrorists.

But Malloy’s executive policy does not apply to Islas, who was detained under a court order, Lawlor said. Though Malloy cannot overturn such a legal ruling, he has repeatedly pressured state judicial marshals not to comply with Secure Communities’ detainment requests for non-criminals, Lawlor added. Lawlor said Malloy has also urged advocacy groups to engage members of the judicial branch in a conversation about Secure Communities.

“We can’t compel the judicial branch to follow our policy,” Lawlor said. “We have encouraged advocacy groups to put pressure on the right people.”

Fountain said ULA had not reached out to judicial officials.

ULA organizer John Lugo said undocumented immigrants seek refuge in New Haven due to policies that limit questions about an individual’s immigration status during routine law enforcement interactions. City officials, including Mayor John DeStefano Jr., have denounced the Secure Communities program. Both DeStefano and Malloy said the program could breed mistrust between local immigrant communities and police. Under Secure Communities, they said, undocumented immigrants have come to view the local police as arms of federal deportation agencies and are consequently reluctant to turn to law enforcement when they are witnesses or victims of crime, fearing they will be deported.

“Secure Communities is a misguided and mishandled program that will make neither New Haven nor the State more secure,” City Hall spokeswoman Elizabeth Benton ’04 said. “The program runs counterproductive to the relationships our police department has worked hard to establish with immigrant communities.”

A Yale Law School study found that nearly 70 percent of people deported from ICE hold requests in Fairfield County were not convicted criminals, violent offenders or threats to public safety or national security.

Berkeley says “no” to federal immigration detainers (Berkeleyside)

Nov 7th, 2012No Comments

Berkeley says “no” to federal immigration detainers
October 31, 2012 8:30 am by Emilie Raguso

In a surprising twist, the Berkeley City Council voted unanimously Tuesday night to decline requests from U.S. immigration officials to apply more stringent detention rules to arrested individuals depending on citizenship status.

Advocates in attendance said the council made a landmark policy decision believed to be the most comprehensive and definitive in the nation as far as refusing altogether to cooperate with a U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) program to detain and potentially deport non-citizens who are arrested.

The decision will, at least initially, have a limited impact given that the vast majority of these individuals ultimately are turned over to county agencies that do cooperate with the feds. Advocates said they believe, however, that the decision will have a ripple effect throughout the state to convince other jurisdictions to take a similar stand.

The city has been working since last year to revise its policy regarding the fate of non-U.S. citizens who are arrested in Berkeley after a federal program called Secure Communities, launched in 2007, set up automated alerts to the feds when non-citizens are arrested.

When ICE receives these alerts, triggered by the fingerprinting process during booking, a notification is sent to local law enforcement agencies requesting detention of the individual for review. Cooperating with detention requests is voluntary, leaving law enforcement jurisdictions the ability to set their own policies to reflect community standards.

The goal of Secure Communities, said Berkeley Police Chief Michael Meehan, is to give law enforcement agencies another tool to keep dangerous offenders off the streets.

The problem, said advocates and Berkeley officials, is that it creates a separate system whereby alleged offenders can potentially be held post-arrest under circumstances where they might otherwise be released. Another issue of concern for many at Tuesday’s meeting was the fate of families and youth within the context of an aggressive approach to deportation.

Advocates said “S-Comm” allows federal agents to swoop in, sometimes within hours, pick up arrested individuals and potentially deport them, long before their guilt or innocence can be determined in a court of law.

Meehan said his proposal at Tuesday night’s City Council meeting was an attempt to create a narrowly focused policy that would only target dangerous, violent offenders. The policy would have required the city to cooperate with ICE detainer requests following an arrest for a serious or violent crime, but only in cases where the individual had a prior conviction for a serious or violent crime. The full text of Meehan’s proposal can be read here.

Meehan said his policy was “very, very restrictive.”

“Law enforcement should not be a party to immigration enforcement, with the exception of dangerous people,” he said. “The whole policy is aimed to prevent the release of violent offenders while balancing civil rights.”

Meehan said that since the Secure Communities program started, ICE has requested the detention of about two Berkeley jail inmates per month. His policy adjustment would have reduced that much further, he said.

According to media reports, Secure Communities’ deportations statewide have reached almost 80,000.

Council members balked at the idea of imposing different rules on non-citizens.

“I don’t understand why we’re not treating everyone the same, citizen or non-citizen,” said Councilman Laurie Capitelli. “Half of my family came over to this country without papers.”

Councilman Max Anderson agreed, adding that, rather than penalize prior offenders, Berkeley should work to help them re-enter society after they’ve paid their debt. He said the ICE program has “its own agenda driven by national politics,” and that Berkeley should refrain from participating, particularly given that the deportation process likely would be irreversible.

“What’s been created is a system of automation designed to outpace and outstrip an individual’s ability to defend himself,” he said.

Councilman Jesse Arreguín said Meehan’s policy would allow Berkeley police to set limits on “a flawed federal program that has affected people in our community.” He said the issue, since arrested individuals would face the feds once getting to the county anyway, was: “Do we get our hands dirty?”

Put simply, said Arreguín, ”If we want to treat everybody the same, we shouldn’t honor any ICE detainer requests.” His comment was met with clapping from advocates in attendance.

Members of the council listened to public comment and grappled with the ramifications of the ICE program for the better part of an hour before Mayor Tom Bates asked: “Why can’t we just have a policy where we say we’re not going to cooperate with ICE?”

Following a motion soon afterward by Councilwoman Linda Maio to disregard ICE requests for detainer following arrests, council members asked city staff to craft language for the new policy while the council heard another item.

Just before 10 p.m., the council voted unanimously on the policy change, that “The Berkeley Police Department will not honor requests” by ICE “to detain a Berkeley jail inmate for suspected violation of federal civil immigration law.”

Council members acknowledged that the real battle would take place at the county level and beyond. But advocates in attendance said there could not have been a better outcome.

“This sets a precedent for larger legislation, like the TRUST Act,” said Polo Morales of Berkeley Organizing Congregations for Action. “What this is saying is Berkeley is taking a stand and following the rule of law, not creating an alternate system. Everybody is treated the same.”

George Lippman, who runs the city’s Peace and Justice Commission, described the council’s decision as “the strongest, most progressive and humane policy on detainers anywhere in the country.”

Nadia Kayyali, a legal fellow with the Bill of Rights Defense Committee, said the decision would help with advocacy efforts throughout the county and state.

“This is probably the best policy in the country,” she said. “It really sends a message about S-Comm, and makes council’s statements in the past, about not supporting the program, a reality.”

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