State Pulls Out of Controversial Immigration Program
by KARI LYDERSEN | May 4, 2011
Governor Pat Quinn is ending Illinois’s participation in a controversial federal immigration program meant to deport immigrants guilty of serious crimes, which has resulted in the detention of mostly immigrants convicted of no crimes or minor offenses.
Illinois is the first state in the nation to agree to participate and then withdraw from the Secure Communities program, which obligates local law enforcement agencies to share fingerprints of anyone arrested with the Immigration and Customs Enforcement agency.
As the Chicago News Cooperative reported in March, ICE officials and contractors had aggressively pushed to implement the program in Chicago despite county and city ordinances that appear to prohibit city and county law enforcement agencies from participating.
Quinn’s announcement came as the state legislature was scheduled today to debate and vote on the Smart Enforcement Act, which would have allowed counties to opt out of the program, require an accounting of its cost to local law enforcement agencies and mandate it only be used for immigrants with serious criminal convictions. Senate president John Cullerton and House Speaker Mike Madigan on Saturday attended an immigrants rights rally centered on the Smart Enforcement Act and the Illinois DREAM Act, also scheduled for a vote today, which would provide scholarships for undocumented students at no expense to taxpayers.
ICE officials have said state and local participation in Secure Communities is mandatory and plan to implement the program nationwide. But Quinn said in a statement today that the agency has not answered state and local officials’ questions about the high number of immigrants detained after being arrested for often minor offenses, including traffic stops. ICE statistics show that in Illinois more than three quarters of those targeted for deportation through the program were convicted of no crimes or minor misdemeanors.
“Secure Communities as it has been implemented has turned into a program that is indiscriminately destroying families,” said Joshua Hoyt, executive director of the Illinois Coalition for Immigrant and Refugee Rights, which obtained internal ICE documents showing how ICE officials strategized to convince Cook County Sheriff Tom Dart and Mayor Richard M. Daley to cooperate with the program.
The Illinois State Police in November 2009 signed a memorandum of agreement with ICE that laid the groundwork for individuals counties to be enrolled. In November 2010 Quinn ordered the program suspended, with no more counties enrolling. Now the 26 participating counties — including every county surrounding Cook — will be “de-activated.”
“After review, we were not satisfied, and determined that ICE’s ongoing implementation of Secure Communities is flawed,” said Quinn in a statement. “ICE has been informed that ISP (the Illinois State Police) is ending its participation in the Secure Communities program. ISP will continue working with the FBI and ICE to facilitate removal of criminals with undocumented status who are convicted of serious crimes.”
ICE officials were upset that Washington D.C. opted out of the program and New York State also refused to participate, testing ICE assertions that the program is mandatory, as revealed in documents obtained by a Freedom of Information Act request by the National Day Laborer Organizing Network (NDLON) and Benjamin Cardozo Law School. The Illinois coalition received and analyzed the Illinois documents.
NDLON legal affairs director Chris Newman said other states will be closely watching what happens in Illinois, amidst growing national discontent over the program.
“The simple fact is DHS cannot make law and policy by decree,” said Newman, referring to the Department of Homeland Security, of which ICE is a part. “We can’t take DHS at its word when they say it’s mandatory. That’s their opinion.”