Category Archives: Press Coverage

Federal program harms more than ‘dangerous criminal aliens’ (LA Times)

Federal program harms more than ‘dangerous criminal aliens’

For nearly three years, the Obama administration has advertised the Secure Communities program as a targeted enforcement tool that identifies “dangerous criminal aliens” for deportation. Over and over, federal officials have insisted that the program’s focus would be chiefly limited to those immigrants whose criminal convictions show that they pose a danger to public safety.

But that’s not the case. In practice, Secure Communities is a dragnet that fails to distinguish between felons convicted of serious crimes and nonviolent arrestees facing civil immigration violations. In California alone, more than half of the 75,000 people deported under the program since it began in 2009 had no criminal history or had only misdemeanor convictions.

Under the program, local law enforcement agencies are required to send the fingerprints of everyone booked into local jails to the FBI, which checks them against criminal databases. Department of Homeland Security officials then check the prints against immigration records and issue requests, known as “detainers,” to local authorities asking them to hold particular individuals for 48 hours. As a result, immigrants arrested for illegal street vending or driving without a license who would ordinarily be released have to sit in jail for two days. After that, they are either transferred to federal custody or released, although some end up in jail for longer.

Local officials across the country are deeply concerned about having to spend their scarce resources filling already overcrowded jails with non-dangerous arrestees, and they are also concerned that the program will undermine law enforcement by deterring immigrants from cooperating with police. So California lawmakers have passed the Trust Act, which would require police to release those who have posted bail, face no serious charges and have no prior serious criminal convictions, despite federal detainers. The bill will go to Gov. Jerry Brown next month. Officials in New York, the District of Columbia and Cook County, Ill., already have similar rules in place.

Some people will no doubt compare the Trust Act to Arizona’s misguided attempt to create its own immigration law, a mean-spirited and unconstitutional move that was rejected by the Supreme Court late last month. The Trust Act is not Arizona’s SB 1070; the two laws are not comparable. But who needs that debate? The best, easiest and fastest solution would be for Obama administration officials to do what they promised from the start and fix the program to ensure that only serious criminals are detained. Or scrap it altogether. If they don’t, California and other states will be forced to fix it for them.

Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel Is Latest to Reject ‘Secure Communities’ Immigration Law (The Daily Beast)

Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel Is Latest to Reject ‘Secure Communities’ Immigration Law

Henry Ford used to say that his customers could order a Model T in any color, so long as it was black. Using similar logic, the federal immigrant-deportation program known as “Secure Communities,” which passed in 2008, gave states the unfettered choice of participating or not participating—unless a state chose not to participate. Then the program became mandatory. Today, we are seeing the terrible repercussions of this lopsided logic.

Secure Communities calls on local officials to provide information on arrestees who might be subject to federal immigration holds, called “detainers.” But on Tuesday, Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel supported an ordinance prohibiting local law enforcement from turning over to federal authorities immigrants who had no serious criminal records or outstanding warrants. In doing so he joined a growing list of state and local officials—including the governors of New York and Massachusetts—who are seeking to “opt out” of the program.

Why opt out? After all, on its face, Secure Communities, whose stated aim was to focus removal efforts on serious criminals, seemed like a program anyone could support.

Unfortunately, that mission statement had little to do with reality.

The reality was that the federal government collected information on enormous numbers of foreign-born U.S. residents, many of whom were here legally, and many of whom had not been, and never would be, convicted of a crime.

That’s not the program that the federal government promised. In fact, it’s not the program that Immigration and Customs Enforcement director John Morton seemed to be describing as recently as Tuesday when he testified before a House subcommittee.

Immigrants with no criminal record, who fall into no priority category for removal, should not become “targeted” for deportation simply because they made a right turn without signaling.

But dig down into the details and you find a program in which Homeland Security gets the fingerprints of virtually anyone arrested for anything, however trivial, which the department then screens for possible deportation.

Think I’m exaggerating? In his testimony on Tuesday, Morton discussed a major problem with Secure Communities—namely, that a program advertised as focusing on serious criminals was in fact deporting people who’d done nothing more serious than commit, say, a motor-vehicle offense. Or perhaps I should say “allegedly commit,” because their fingerprints were forwarded to Homeland Security before their motor-vehicle case could even be heard by a judge.

What was Morton’s solution to this problem? He announced a new policy in which, rather than making deportation mandatory for traffic offenses, “ICE will only consider issuing detainers for individuals arrested solely for minor traffic offenses who have not been previously convicted of other crimes and do not fall within any other ICE priority category.”

This policy turns reason on its head. It substitutes an exercise of discretion for what should be an exercise of sanity. Quite simply, immigrants with no criminal record, who fall into no priority category for removal, should not become “targeted” for deportation simply because they made a right turn without signaling.

Unfortunately, even the new and improved Secure Communities does not exempt minor traffic offenders from “targeting” by Homeland Security. That’s why whenever ICE tries to justify the program by citing statistics, the numbers are always inflated by aggregation. For instance, in his testimony on Tuesday, Morton boasted that 94 percent of those deported as a result of Secure Communities were convicted criminals, recent border crossers, or visa overstayers.

Visa overstayers? As in students who forget to get their visas renewed? 

When you strip down the aggregated statistics and look at the reality of who gets deported, you learn—as a think tank at Syracuse University recently reported—that only about 14 percent of those deported by ICE actually are charged with criminal conduct. You have to add a lot of minor traffic violators and visa overstayers to inflate that figure to 94 percent.  

No wonder that the mayor of Chicago and the governor of New York want out of the program. By casting its net so broadly in search of ever-bigger numbers, Secure Communities is the worst kind of public policy. A relatively small number of dangerous people get deported, while many other law-abiding immigrants live in fear of making that right-hand turn that will brand them, and their families, as high-priority “targets” of immigration authorities.

When I was district attorney, I saw another effect of such reckless immigration policies: too often, immigrants are reluctant to report crimes, or even come to court as witnesses, for fear that any contact with the criminal-justice system would bring them to the notice of immigration officials. The result is that criminals who prey on immigrants—truly evil offenders like human traffickers—know that fear of law enforcement is their great ally.

This is a terrible problem with a simple solution: the federal government should allow states and localities to opt out of Secure Communities. In his remarks on Tuesday, Rahm Emanuel delivered a message to law-abiding immigrants: “We want to welcome you to the city of Chicago.”

That message was a poignant one for me. My paternal grandfather, Henry Morgenthau Sr., and his three younger brothers arrived in New York from Mannheim, Germany, on June 4, 1866, when he was 10 years old. A little more than five years later, he was admitted to the City College of New York. He worked in a law firm to help support his parents and 11 siblings. He attended and graduated from Columbia Law School while teaching immigrants at night in high school. At that time, the doors were wide open for immigrants to obtain an education—the kind of message a lot of our families received in coming to America. It should not today be silenced by the mandatory application of a vastly overzealous law.

Growing Number of Cities Are Fighting Back Against Anti-Immigrant Policies (Think Progress)

Growing Number Of Cities Are Fighting Back Against Anti-Immigrant Policies

Alex Brown

On Tuesday, the District of Columbia City Council unanimously approved a bill that will limit the circumstances under which local law enforcement is required to hold individuals at the request of Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE).

The effort undermines the federal Secure Communities program, which requires local law enforcement to share fingerprints with federal immigration officials. If an individual’s fingerprints show up in a Department of Homeland Security Database, ICE can ask local law enforcement to detain the individual for 48 hours so it can take the person into custody.

The D.C. decision comes at a time when cities around the country are taking a stand against harsh immigration laws like those seen in Arizona. Since cities cannot opt out of participating in Secure Communities, they are using a strategy of restricting detainment circumstances to fight against it:

We want to be the anti-Arizona,” Sarahi Uribe, a D.C.-based organizer for the National Day Laborer Organizing Network, told The Huffington Post. “Our entire campaign to get cities to break ties with federal immigration enforcement is an effort to be the opposite of Arizona.”

Opponents of Secure Communities, which is under ICE, say the program has the same effects as SB 1070′s most damaging provisions, by potentially scaring undocumented immigrants away from working with police.[…]

The newly-approved law restricts the period in which immigrants will be held from 48 to 24 hours, requires that ICE pay the local costs of incarceration and specifies that those held on detainers must have been convicted of serious crimes.

The city of Chicago is on its way towards joining D.C. and easing federal immigration enforcement within city limits. Mayor Rahm Emanuel (D) announced on Tuesday that he will also propose an ordinance that would restrict the circumstances in which local law enforcement can turn undocumented immigrants over to federal immigration authorities, noting that they would only be able to do so cases where the immigrants have serious criminal convictions or outstanding criminal warrants.

If you have no criminal record, being part of a community is not a problem for you,” Mr. Emanuel said, speaking at a high school library in Little Village, a Latino neighborhood. “We want to welcome you to the city of Chicago.”

The mayor said the proposal was part of his goal to make Chicago the “most immigrant-friendly city in the country.”

D.C. and Chicago are not the only places where officials are fighting back against harsh immigration laws. Last week, California state senators approved the Trust Act, which is designed protect undocumented immigrants and push back against Secure Communities. The bill, awaiting action in the Assembly, would prevent local law enforcement officials from referring a detainee to ICE unless the person detained has been convicted of a violent or serious felony.

'Secure Communities' and the U.S. Immigrant Rights Movement: Lessons from New York State (NACLA)

Michelle Fei

In May, U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) imposed the deportation program known as “Secure Communities” (S-Comm) throughout New York State. The news came as a shock to most advocates who had secured an important victory less than a year ago by convincing Governor Andrew Cuomo to suspend the program indefinitely. What happened also serves as a lesson about the challenges of fighting a federal immigration policing regime that few have questioned systematically.

As ICE and its supporters like to tell it, S-Comm is simply a data-sharing program: shortly after arrest, the police send the fingerprints of all arrestees not only to the FBI (which has long been standard practice) but to federal immigration databases as well. Those who ICE suspects of being deportable are then tagged through a “hold,” also known as a detainer. These holds request that local law enforcement delay the release of arrestees in order to give ICE an opportunity to transfer them directly into the deportation system instead of allowing them to return home to their families and communities.

But for immigrant communities and their advocates in New York and across the United States the story is very different. “Secure Communities” represents the antithesis of its Orwellian name. When police officers become de facto immigration agents, communities are fearful of reporting, or cooperating in the investigation of, crimes—thus compromising community safety. At the same time, S-Comm acts as a wide dragnet, sweeping all types of immigrants into the fold (yes, even green card holders, or lawful permanent residents), including those who have minor convictions or those who eventually are found not guilty.

It was in response to revelations that New York State had signed a memorandum of understanding with ICE in 2010 to facilitate the implementation of S-Comm that a coalition of immigrant rights, labor, faith-based, domestic violence, LGBT, family services, criminal justice, anti-trafficking, and civil rights groups came together to fight the program. The members of the New York State Working Group Against Deportation agreed with other advocates across the country that it seemed profoundly unjust for those who had “done nothing wrong” to be deported. Our main point, however, was that all deportations under S-Comm needed to be stopped, as the program’s core function was, and still is, to funnel people into a deportation system that is fundamentally unfair.

The reality is that the U.S. deportation system barely makes a pretense of providing a fair trial. Most people are forced to defend themselves without the help of information, loved ones, or lawyers while locked up in detention centers often thousands of miles away from their homes and with few options available to allow them to stay. Under these conditions, we cannot justify sending anyone into detention and deportation, a system that only compounds and exacerbates the unfairness that many immigrant and low-income communities of color have historically faced through the criminal (in) justice system.

That is why we launched our statewide campaign to protect the rights of all immigrants, regardless of status or criminal record. We recognized that, in this dismal political climate, the mainstream immigrant rights movement had become accustomed to pursuing small changes at best.

The movement has accepted—and has often been at the forefront of promoting—the argument that some immigrants (“the deserving”) are worthy of staying in the United States while others—namely, those with criminal convictions (“the “undeserving”)—deserve deportation. This is why a tagline like “We are not criminals,” which have been popularized in campaigns that argue for the legalization of undocumented immigrants, has become so firmly entrenched. For the mainstream immigrant rights movement, even raising the issue of the rights of immigrants with criminal histories is, at best, a non-starter.

In this regard,  in convincing Governor Cuomo to suspend S-Comm in New York State in June 2011 seemed particularly stunning. However, very quickly the precarious nature of our victory became apparent.

Shortly after New York and a few other states refused to participate in S-Comm, ICE decided to unilaterally withdraw the memoranda of understanding governing the program’s operation that it had campaigned so hard for states to sign, claiming that the agency could and would move forward with activating jurisdictions despite widespread objections. We heard nothing until ICE suddenly and without notice activated S-Comm in the entire state two months ago. We later learned that ICE and the FBI had decided to proceed with making their agencies’ databases interoperable—meaning they could share fingerprints on their own and sidestep New York’s involvement entirely.

Still, we cannot claim surprise at ICE’s persistence in getting New York activated. ICE’s own documents reveal the extent to which activating S-Comm in New York City had been a priority of the highest magnitude for the agency. According to ICE, given that nearly 9% of all those that it labels “criminal aliens” live within the City’s limits, the agency cannot achieve its deportation objectives without having S-Comm “go live” in New York State.

Similarly, the blithe manner with which Obama has demonstrated a commitment to increasing, or at least sustaining, current deportation levels across the United States is hardly surprising. Neither the Administration’s recent lawsuit against Arizona’s harsh immigration law nor the various incarnations of reprieve from deportation for certain populations, such as undocumented youth, has done anything to slow down its deportation apparatus—one so powerful that it brazenly operates with virtually no regard for transparency or accountability. To the contrary, the Administration has made clear that while it will reconsider on a limited basis the deportation of certain populations deemed worthy, such policies only further enable the government to amplify its efforts to deport immense portions of the rest of our immigrant communities.

We would be foolish, then, to expect much from the needed overhaul of laws when Obama seems to maintain such a feverish adherence to the broken immigration system he claims to want to reform. He himself seems to be relying on selling the U.S. public small tweaks while ignoring the big picture.

We need to hold Obama accountable and demand meaningful action. But we should also admit that the path Obama has taken is one that the U.S. immigrant rights movement has been complicit in paving. We in the immigrant rights movement have implicitly and explicitly made it clear that we privilege certain groups over others, and that those immigrants whose lives might present complications can be rather easily disposed of. In other words, we have settled for troubling compromises, instigated divisiveness among immigrant populations, and refused to demand systematic change—all in the name of pragmatism. While we may disagree about the rightfulness or wrongfulness of these efforts, most of us can agree that they have not paid off.

Fighting a huge federal regime from a grassroots level will never be easy. We all know where the balance of power and resources lies. But if we want to fundamentally transform U.S. immigration laws and policies, we need to build an honest consensus about the need to fight for the rights of all immigrants, not just the “easier” cases. Only then can we claim to be serious about engaging in a real fight for and with our country’s immigrants

First Legal Challenge to Bush-Obama Anti-Immigrant Program (AllGov)

A growing number of United States citizens have been wrongfully detained under a government program intended to detect undocumented immigrants who are arrested by local police–and now one of them is fighting back.

Chicago-area resident James Makowski, who was adopted from India as an infant and became a naturalized U.S. citizen at the age of 1, was arrested on July 7, 2010, and incarcerated at the maximum-security federal prison in Pontiac, Illinois, for two months before immigration officials acknowledged his citizenship and ordered him released. With the help of the National Immigrant Justice Center in Chicago, Makowski, who served in the U.S. Marine Corps, has filed sued against the government, alleging that the program violated the Privacy Act of 1974. He is seeking damages for wrongful imprisonment, lost wages, attorney fees and costs, and emotional pain and suffering.
At issue is the Secure Communities program, initiated by the George W. Bush administration in 2008 and expanded by President Barack Obama, which checks the fingerprints of every person booked at local jails against FBI and Department of Homeland Security (DHS) databases for immigration problems. If a match results, federal agents can issue a detainer asking local authorities to hold a suspect up to 48 hours. Since 2008, the FBI has disclosed more than 16.2 million fingerprint records to DHS, which has identified more than 918,000 possible problem cases.
Makowski, who was incarcerated under a drug conviction when the fingerprint check erroneously identified him as undocumented, notes that the data also means that the FBI has shared more than 15 million fingerprint records of American citizens or legal permanent residents. Attorney Mark Fleming, who is representing Makowski, argues that “The FBI and DHS are consistently and systematically violating the Privacy Act,” which restricts how and when government agencies may share information about citizens.
Although supporters of Secure Communities have touted it as a neutral means of identifying and removing potentially dangerous undocumented immigrants that avoids the potential for racial profiling inherent in visually-based determinations, citizens wrongfully detained have tended to be brown. Makowski was born in Calcutta, India.
In a case reported by AllGov last year, Los Angeles resident Antonio Montejano, a U.S.-born citizen, was wrongly held for days because of bad information obtained via Secure Communities. Immigration officials refused to believe that he was a citizen, because, Montejano said, “I look Mexican 100 percent.”