Renewed Pitch for Immigration Program (Chicago Cooperative)

Renewed Pitch for Immigration Program
by KARI LYDERSEN | Jun 28, 2011

The director of U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement visited Chicago Tuesday in an apparent attempt to bolster support for a troubled immigration enforcement program championed by the Obama administration.

ICE director John Morton met with a representative of Gov. Pat Quinn and immigrants right activists at the agency’s Chicago headquarters to tout reforms made to Secure Communities, according to Joshua Hoyt, director of the Illinois Coalition for Immigrant and Refugee Rights, who attended the meeting.

Secure Communities is a federal data-sharing program intended to catch and deport undocumented immigrants convicted of serious crimes. But ICE’s statistics through February 2011 show that 32 percent of immigrants put into deportation proceedings in Illinois had no criminal convictions. Nationwide, 28 percent had no criminal record.

In May, Illinois became the first state in the nation to withdraw from the program. New York and Massachusetts have since followed suit. And internal ICE documents from last spring show that ICE officials undertook a months-long campaign to force Chicago and Cook County to join the program despite city and county ordinances that prohibit local law enforcement from participating in immigration enforcement.

ICE spokeswoman Leticia Zamarripa said Morton made a “short visit” to Chicago but did not offer any specifics.

At the meeting, Hoyt said, Morton repeated the agency’s claim that participation in Secure Communities is mandatory and he highlighted changes to the program that were announced June 17, such as the formation of an advisory committee to address people targeted by Secure Communities as a result of traffic stops; a re view process for the immigration cases of people picked up for traffic offenses; and training videos and briefings for law enforcement agencies intended to prevent racial profiling.

“The reforms amount to a memo, a training and a study,” Hoyt said. “That’s the triple crown of bureaucratic side-stepping. It’s too late at this point for pretty words and nice memos. They’re desperately trying to put the toothpaste back in the tube. They were fired for their incompetence in Illinois, but his position is that they want to continue the program.”

Hoyt said they were told Morton also met with law enforcement representatives, including former Chicago Police Superintendent Terry Hillard, who now works as a private security consultant. Reached at his office, Hillard said, “All the information needs to come from ICE.”

A spokesman for Quinn’s office said he was not aware of the meeting.

During the meetings, immigrants rights advocates protested outside ICE’s downtown office, saying Morton should have met with immigrants directly impacted by the program.