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Feds delay review of Obama immigration program
Alan Gomez, @alangomez, USA TODAYShare
11:46PM EST November 5. 2012 – Seventeen months have passed since the Department of Homeland Security announced it would create an internal civil rights review of the Obama administration’s signature immigration enforcement program, but now department officials cannot say when, or if, they will complete it.
Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) Director John Morton announced in June 2011 that his agency would create a statistical monitoring tool to ensure that law enforcement agencies were not using the Secure Communities program to engage in racial profiling. The program screens all people booked into local jails for federal immigration violations. Despite calls from a Homeland Security task force and outside groups to complete the review, officials are not sure when that will be possible.
“Certain data collection factors have created challenges, delaying the completion of this model,” Homeland Security spokesman Matt Chandler said. He said they are working “diligently” to find an effective way to monitor for civil rights abuses.
People booked into jails have their fingerprints sent to the FBI to check their criminal background. Under the Secure Communities program, those fingerprints are then sent to Homeland Security to check for immigration violations. People who are flagged are then examined by ICE and could be deported.
The program, created in 2008 under President George W. Bush and embraced by the Obama administration, has expanded rapidly. It is now active in 97% of local law enforcement agencies with the goal of 100% participation by 2013.
Several reports have found considerable flaws in the program.
An October 2011 study by researchers at the University of California-Berkeley that examined a random sampling of people arrested under Secure Communities found that about 3,600 U.S. citizens had been erroneously arrested by ICE. The report also concluded that Hispanics were disproportionally targeted through Secure Communities — 93% of people arrested were Hispanics, even though they make up 77% of the illegal immigrant population.
Another review in September 2011 by a Homeland Security advisory council raised similar concerns. Half of the 14-member review panel said the program was so flawed it should be suspended until it could be fixed.
“Task Force members believe that it makes little sense to expand a program that many community leaders and elected officials consider deeply flawed, especially as to its impact on community policing and civil rights,” the report found.
Since then, officials in various jurisdictions in the U.S. have pushed back against the program. The California Legislature passed the TRUST Act, which would have limited the state’s cooperation with Secure Communities, but Gov. Jerry Brown vetoed it Sept. 30.
“Here we are a year and a half after this review was begun and I had expected to see results by now,” said Brittney Nystrom, director of policy and legal affairs for the National Immigration Forum, a Washington-based think tank. “This statistical oversight piece was the lynchpin of the assurances that (Homeland Security) was going to operate this program in a way that respected civil rights and civil liberties. So the fact that we haven’t seen any results from that project concerns me.”
By Derek Staahl
Local civil and immigrant rights activists are heading to Sacramento to try to rally support for a bill that would protect illegal immigrants who commit minor infractions from deportation.
Lawmakers sent Gov. Jerry Brown AB1081, known as the Trust Act, on Friday.
The bill would allow California to opt out of some parts of the federal Secure Communities program. That program requires local law enforcement officers to check the fingerprints of people they arrest against a federal immigration database and hold those who are in the country illegally.
Assemblyman Tom Ammiano, D-San Francisco, said the policy wastes resources and drives a wedge between immigrants and law enforcement agencies.
“Victims of crime, including domestic violence, are fearful of risking separation from their families and deportation,” he said.
Several GOP lawmakers spoke against the bill Friday, saying it would take away an important tool for ridding California of law-breakers.
“This has become the be-kind-to-criminals Legislature,” said Assemblyman Jim Nielson, R-Gerber.
AB1081 passed the Assembly on a party line, 44-23 vote after a lengthy debate.
As the debate became more heated, Ammiano said some of the bill’s Republican opponents had “been in the sun too long building that silly fence,” drawing a reprimand from Democratic house leadership.
The Trust Act would prevent local law enforcement officers from detaining arrestees for possible deportation unless the suspect had been charged with a serious or violent felony.
The bill has been dubbed “anti-Arizona” legislation, a reference to that state’s immigrant identification law. Supporters argue that the Secure Communities program targets otherwise law-abiding immigrants who commit minor traffic infractions, sell food without a permit or are arrested on misdemeanors charges but never convicted.
The federal government has deported tens of thousands of people under the Secure Communities program, with the majority coming from California.
Since 2009, California law enforcement officials have turned over about 80,000 illegal immigrants for deportation; fewer than half had committed a serious or violent felony.
Trust Act advocates have long expected Gov. Jerry Brown, who previously served as California’s attorney general, to present the biggest hurdle to the bill’s passage. The Democratic governor has not taken a position on the legislation, according to spokesman Gareth Lacy.
By: Elise Foley
WASHINGTON — Los Angeles County is spending more than $26 million a year to hold undocumented immigrants under a federal immigration enforcement initiative, individuals it would otherwise release, according to a report on Thursday. Critics say that demonstrates the high cost of the program, in which some local governments would rather not participate.
The report by Justice Strategies found that the cost of Secure Communities, a cooperative program between local police and Immigration and Customs Enforcement, is steep mainly because jails hold suspected undocumented immigrants are held an average of 20 days longer at ICE’s request than they otherwise would. The advocacy group examined public records from the Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Department provided to the National Day Laborer Organizing Network.
Extending those numbers statewide, Justice Strategies estimates that California taxpayers spend $65 million each year to detain immigrants for ICE.
Los Angeles County first signed on to Secure Communities in August 2009, when the program was just gearing up. The initiative is now in force in 97 percent of the country — 3,074 of 3,181 jurisdictions — with the goal of 100 percent application by the end of the year. As Secure Communities expanded, it became increasingly controversial, from its troubled rollout to concerns that it nets non-criminals and makes communities fearful of police.
The program works by sending fingerprints of arrested individuals to ICE, which uses them to screen for deportable immigrants. If ICE finds a match, the agency asks local law enforcement to hold the person until federal authorities can come pick up the arrestee. Those holds, called detainers, are supposed to last 48 hours.
But in Los Angeles County and many other jurisdictions, jails often end up holding immigrants far longer, generating costs that aren’t reimbursed by the federal government.
ICE insists the detainers are important for public safety, even though the criminal justice system would release the individuals in question if they were not under a detainer.
“ICE places detainers on aliens arrested on criminal charges to ensure that dangerous criminals are not released from prisons/jails and into our communities,” ICE spokeswoman Nicole Navas said in an October 2011 statement. “Even though some aliens may be arrested on minor criminal charges, they may also have more serious criminal backgrounds which disguise their true danger to society.”
California may soon have a law barring the detention of immigrants “after that individual becomes eligible for release from criminal custody,” except in certain circumstances. Los Angeles Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa supports the legislation, called the TRUST Act, which it has passed in slightly different forms in the state assembly and the state senate. It could soon go to Democratic Gov. Jerry Brown’s desk, although he hasn’t yet said whether he will sign it.
Similarly, Cook County, Ill., and the District of Columbia have passed measures against holding undocumented immigrants for ICE when they otherwise would be released based on the lack of severity of their accused crimes. ICE offered to pay Cook County for the expenses incurred, according to the Chicago Tribune, but county leaders didn’t budge.
To date, ICE has deported 59,535 immigrants under the Secure Communities program, according to the agency. The Justice Strategies report found that 5,184 people were handed over to ICE by the Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Department in the first three months of 2011.
Los Angeles Sheriff Lee Baca has declined to answer other questions about the operation of the program, despite a lawsuit brought by the National Immigration Law Center and the National Day Laborer Organizing Network.
The Los Angeles Times released an editorial on Tuesday criticizing Baca for his refusal to release numbers about the demographics of county jails and the extent of his office’s cooperation with ICE.
“Whether the sheriff should be holding illegal immigrants at all isn’t the issue, at least in this lawsuit,” the editorial declares. “Rather, the questions are whether those undocumented immigrants who are held spend far longer in custody than required and at what cost to taxpayers. It’s time for Baca to release the records that will help answer those questions.”
An Indian American computer analyst, who has been a U.S. citizen since his parents adopted him as a newborn from a Kolkata, India orphanage, filed suit against several federal agencies July 3 for branding him deportable.
James Aziz Makowski, 25, is the first U.S. citizen to challenge the Secure Communities program, which allows federal agencies to exchange information with the aim of finding serious undocumented criminals and deporting them. Civil rights activists have long opposed S-Comm, as the program is colloquially known, saying it violates the privacy rights of individuals. Makowski’s suit names U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder, FBI director Robert Mueller, Department of Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano, and Immigration and Customs Enforcement director John Morton, among others.
“I just want the U.S. government to put in safeguards to ensure that citizens and permanent residents are not subject to being detained for immigration issues,” Makowski told India-West in a telephone interview.
On July 7, 2010, Makowski was arrested for making and distributing heroin. When he was arrested, the Dupage, Ill., county sheriff’s department sent his fingerprints to the FBI for a background criminal check. Under the provisions of S-Comm, the FBI turned Makowski’s fingerprints over to ICE.
Mark Fleming, an attorney with the National Immigration Justice Center who is representing Makowski with Geoffrey Vance of McDermott Will and Emery, told India-West that Makowski had been naturalized through his parents shortly after arriving in the U.S., and held a U.S. passport and a certificate of naturalization.
But the DHS had not updated their records in 20 years, so that he appeared to be undocumented and deportable. ICE then put an immigration detainer on Makowski, the first step in deportation proceedings.
Makowski was never asked about his immigration status, said Fleming. “DHS is now starting to rely exclusively on electronic records, rather than interviewing individuals. They are not taking that extra step to ensure their information is correct,” he stated.
In December of that year, Makowski pleaded guilty to distributing heroin, a felony crime. He was sentenced to seven years, but given the option of an alternate sentence that would have allowed him to serve 120 days at a “boot camp.”
While being processed, however, Makowski – through his attorney – learned that he was ineligible for boot camp because of the immigration detainer. He spent the next two months in prison while his father tried to get him out.
“It was definitely the most unpleasant experience of my life. I was very depressed. Nobody seemed to care that I was a U.S. citizen,” said Makowski.
Since his release, Makowski – who sold heroin to support his cocaine habit – has gone through drug rehabilitation and is clean and sober and employed. The Robert Morris University graduate said he started experimenting with drugs while in college, but soon found himself addicted.
While in jail, before he pleaded guilty, Makowski alleged he was questioned several times by FBI counterterrorism agents, who would ask him about his affiliation to India, and whether he had visited the country and if he sent money there. FBI agents also asked him if he attended mosques and what languages he knew besides English. The Indian American believes he was questioned because of his middle name – Aziz – which he has retained. He has never visited India nor been to a mosque.
Under S-Comm, any time an individual is arrested, his fingerprints are sent to the FBI, and then automatically to DHS to see whether there are grounds for immigration enforcement, Fleming explained, adding that S-Comm is the first step in a larger program known as the Next Generation Identification System, which he characterized as a “one-stop shop” for various law enforcement agencies, which could potentially bring in the IRS, the Social Security Administration and even child support agencies.
According to the lawsuit, the FBI in the past decade has sent 16 million fingerprints to ICE, of which 15 million belonged to U.S. citizens or legal residents.
Anoop Prasad, a staff attorney at the Asian Law Caucus in San Francisco, told India-West that S-Comm was initiated as a program to root out people who pose a threat to society. But S-Comm has cast a wide net and is detaining people who should not be deported.
“S-Comm does not have safeguards to protect U.S. citizens or people who have committed low-level offenses or no offenses at all,” he stated.
The program is particularly problematic to victims of a violent crime or domestic violence, said Prasad, noting that those who call the police are also checked against federal databases.
“S-Comm has turned the entire country into Arizona,” stated Prasad, referring to controversial measure SB 1070, which requires local law enforcement to demand documentation from those they believe to be undocumented. “Anyone who’s arrested is potentially deportable,” he stated.
The California state Legislature is considering the TRUST Act, which would override S-Comm. The bill passed the Senate earlier this month, and is now in the State Assembly, which passed a weaker version of the bill last year. California Governor Jerry Brown has remained mum on the bill, said Prasad.
Sacramento — Juana Reyes provides for her family by selling homemade tamales outside a busy Wal-Mart not far from where I live. At least she used to.
Last month Juana was arrested for selling her tamales without a permit and was held in jail for 13 days, while her two children were placed in foster care. Juana was just released, but she now faces deportation back to Mexico, despite having lived in California for 20 years and being the sole caregiver to her children, both U.S. citizens.
I wouldn’t be surprised to read about a story like Juana’s from Arizona or Alabama, where harsh laws direct police to arrest anyone they suspect to be in the country without papers. These laws have been tearing apart families like Juana’s and have immigrant families living in constant fear of police. In California, we may not have an Arizona-style immigration law, but we do have a federal program that’s having a similar effect in immigrant communities.
It’s called “Secure Communities,” but the name couldn’t be more misleading. When Secure Communities was started in 2008, it was supposed to end this sort of indiscriminate rounding up of American immigrants. In the absence of immigration reform, Secure Communities was supposed to prioritize the removal of serious criminals.
However, the program has strayed far from its original intent. Last year, some 400,000 immigrants were detained and deported, and most of them, like Juana, committed no serious crime. In California alone, 75,000 immigrants were deported last year after being arrested for traffic offenses, selling food without permits or other trivial violations.
California can do better. We can focus our law enforcement resources on serious criminals, not on mothers and fathers simply trying to make a better life for their kids. That’s why I support the Trust Act (“Transparency and Responsibility Using State Tools” Act or AB 1081).
It’s a bill that would instruct California law enforcement to hold any unauthorized immigrants who are convicted of serious or violent felonies in detention. But, it would mean that mothers, like Juana, who are arrested for trivial violations, or fathers stopped for driving with a broken taillight, won’t be fast-tracked into deportation.
This legislation is common sense and it’s the right thing to do. For one, when immigrants fear contact with the police, they don’t report crimes and we all become less safe. Stories like Juana’s quickly spread through immigrant communities and destroy the trust between police and immigrant communities that is so critical to fighting crime.
Second, with our state facing an ongoing budget deficit, the Trust Act would help counties lower costs by reducing the money they now spend to hold people like Juana in jail, when they would otherwise be released with a fine.
Finally, as a pastor in the Hispanic community, I am constantly confronted with families that have been torn apart when a parent is deported, often times after minor contact with police. The long-term consequences for the children are devastating.
The Trust Act passed both the Assembly and the Senate by comfortable margins. Soon it will go to the governor’s desk, and I hope and expect that Gov. Jerry Brown will sign the Trust Act into law.
Enforcement of our nation’s borders is essential, and the continuing failure of Congress to enact comprehensive immigration reform and provide a road map to legal status for the 11 million undocumented immigrants in our country is shameful. But, in the meantime, Gov. Brown and California can lead the way by rebuilding trust in immigrant communities, curbing wasteful spending and keeping families intact.