Confusion over who has final say under Secure Communities program
Most immigrants detained and deported in Monterey County under a controversial federal enforcement program have committed no crimes, federal statistics show.
The county has a higher percentage of such cases than other California counties and the U.S. as a whole.
A total of 889 people from Monterey County were detained and deported through the Secure Communities program between April 2010 and August 2011.
The Department of Homeland Security’s deportation program requires state and local law enforcement agencies to share fingerprints of people they detain with U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement, or ICE.
According to ICE, 463 people sent back to their country of origin from Monterey County — 53 percent — were undocumented immigrants convicted of no crimes.
By comparison, Santa Cruz County deported 176 immigrants, 76 of whom were not criminals. That’s 42 percent. Santa Clara County deported 972 immigrants, of which 209, or 22 percent, were not criminals.
In California, 29 percent of those deported under Secure Communities had no criminal record. Overall U.S. deportations showed 20 percent with no criminal record.
Voluntary to mandatory
The Secure Communities program, first billed as voluntary, became mandatory in August and has been under fire by immigrant rights organizations nationwide. They say the program was supposed to target criminals but has been used unevenly and without oversight.
“The pattern in Monterey County is even worse” than the rest of California, said Paul Johnston of the Santa Cruz County Immigration Action Group. “Secure Communities is supposed to be information sharing so ICE knows who’s in your jail, but it’s up to jurisdictions who they are going to send back.”Jeff Budd, chief deputy of corrections at Monterey County Jail, said the decision on who gets deported is up to Immigration and Customs Enforcement, not Monterey County.
“It’s all handled by ICE,” he said. “It’s a federal thing.”
People who overstay their visas, people who attempted to cross the border illegally and got caught, people who were asked to report for deportation proceedings but never did — these are the types of immigration “holds” that will raise a flag in Monterey County and prompt an ICE enforcer to take a second look.
Detainees on an immigration hold can remain in Monterey County Jail for up to 100 days, Budd said.
But it’s not up to Immigration and Customs Enforcement officers to decide who goes back, said spokeswoman Virginia Kice.
“ICE does not make the final decision as to whether an alien will be deported,” Kice said in an email. “We simply file the paperwork that puts a potentially deportable alien into removal proceedings. The immigration case is then heard by an administrative law judge with the Executive Office for Immigration Review.” That office is a part of the U.S. Department of Justice.
Rights groups critical
Secure Communities has been the target of criticism from immigrant rights advocates and civil rights groups, who claim ICE imposed the program unilaterally and that it is used largely to detain low-level criminals and non-criminals. Among the criticisms is that ICE does not reveal the name of the people detained and deported under Secure Communities.
A coalition sued five federal agencies last year to obtain information about the program, claiming the system was not going to have sufficient transparency.
On Monday, a federal judge in New York ordered the release to the coalition of a key document that is expected to show why the U.S. made the program mandatory, the Washington Post reported.
Adding fuel to the fire, a recent report by the UC Berkeley School of Law’s Warren Institute found that 1.6 percent of people detained through Secure Communities were U.S. citizens, and 67 percent were non-criminal or low-level offenders.
According to the report, 93 percent of detainees are Latinos, though it is estimated that 77 percent of undocumented immigrants are Latinos.
The report found that 52 percent of people arrested through Secure Communities were scheduled to have a hearing before an immigration judge.
Santa Clara County supervisors approved a program last week that will limit their cooperation with ICE by requesting reimbursement from the federal government when asked to detain an immigrant and by agreeing to detain only people who committed certain violent crimes.
This week, Santa Cruz County supervisors asked the sheriff to review participation in Secure Communities.
Claudia Meléndez Salinas can be reached at 753-6755 or [email protected]