Category Archives: Press (Maryland)

In Montgomery, residents protest Secure Communities (Maryland)

In Montgomery, residents protest Secure Communities
Police spokesman: Program will not change approach to victims, witnesses
by Kate S. Alexander, Staff Writer

Grasping images of immigrants facing deportation and hoisting hand-painted signs in the air, a group of about two dozen Montgomery County residents protested the federal Secure Communities program Wednesday and asked Montgomery County officials to refuse its implementation.

Montgomery County is the last of two Maryland jurisdictions to implement the federal program that requires FBI officials to share fingerprints they receive from county jails with U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement and the U.S. Department of Homeland Security. The program began Wednesday in the county, said Montgomery County Department of Correction and Rehabilitation Director Arthur Wallenstein.

However, for more than a decade, the county has provided ICE with the names of every incoming prisoner who reports being born outside of the United States, Wallenstein has said.

Hosted by the advocacy group Casa of Maryland, protesters denounced Secure Communities from the courtyard of the County Executive Building at 101 Monroe St. in Rockville.

Casa believes that every Montgomery County resident would be affected by the program, which it calls anti-immigrant, through the disintegration of police-community relations.

“We call this program ‘insecure communities,'” said Gustavo Torres, executive director of Casa of Maryland. “Because it is going to impact the relationship between the police and the communities in general and in particular the immigrant communities.”

While supporters say the program will make the county safer, opponents said it would lead to more crime and racial profiling.

Secure Communities will not change how the Montgomery County Police Department operates, said police spokesman Capt. Paul Starks.

“We are the same police department today as we were last week and last month,” he said.

Montgomery County Police has long advocated to communities that, regardless of citizenship or immigration status, if someone is the victim or witness to a crime, then police need to hear from them, Starks said.

“Our police officers are not going to ask status; we are trying to solve local crime here,” he said.

Speaking in Spanish on Wednesday, Florinda Desimilian of Hyattsville described being arrested last year at her former home in Prince George’s County, detained for four days and then turned over to ICE as part of Secure Communities. While charges against her for operating a business without a proper license were dropped, according to information from Casa, she said she still faces a deportation order.

Yves Gomes of Burtonsville described how his family, which had lived in the U.S. since 1994, applied for permanent residency and was denied. In 2008, the family’s legal status expired. His father was later pulled over by police on his way home from work for a broken tail light only to be arrested when his status was found to be illegal.

“And that was the last time I ever saw him,” he said.

Both Gomes and Desimilian implored the county to prevent others from feeling similar pain.

Ajmel A. Quereshi, a lawyer and professor of law at Howard University said that the county is within its rights to limit its participation in Secure Communities under the protection of the 10th amendment to the U.S. Constitution. Courts have interpreted the amendment to mean that the federal government has only the power granted it in the constitution.

P.G.'s expulsion rate of illegals raises questions (Wash Examiner)

P.G.’s expulsion rate of illegals raises questions
Andrew Harnik/Examiner

Two-thirds of the illegal immigrants removed from Prince George’s County under a federal program designed to identify and deport dangerous criminals had no criminal records, giving rise to charges that county police are targeting Hispanics for arrest and deportation.

Illegal immigrants who have no criminal records are being deported from Prince George’s County at a higher rate than all but one other jurisdiction in the nation, Jefferson Parish, La., and far more than any other locality in the Washington area.

Of the 223 illegal immigrants deported from the county under the Secure Communities program between December 2009 and February, 145 of them, or 65 percent, had no criminal record beyond their immigration violations. In Arizona, the state with one of the country’s toughest immigration laws, less than 28 percent of those deported by Immigration and Customs Enforcement were noncriminals.

“What the numbers show me is that there is some form of racial profiling going on,” said Gustavo Andrade, a spokesman for CASA de Maryland. “The police department in Prince George’s County has to bear the brunt of the responsibility here. It’s my belief that their racial makeup doesn’t reflect the population of Prince George’s County.”

A Prince George’s police spokesman, Cpl. Evan Baxter, declined to comment, saying ICE, not the department, runs the program and determines who is deported.

Florinda Lorenzo-Desimilian of Langley Park was among those arrested by Prince George’s County police and now faces deportation for what even the courts agreed was a minor criminal offense, selling phone cards out of her home. Lorenzo-Desimilian was arrested with nine others in a police sting and charged with a misdemeanor for selling the cards without a business license. As a part of her plea, she was ordered to perform 16 hours of community service.

When Lorenzo-Desimilian’s fingerprints were turned over to ICE, however, authorities determined that her visa had expired and on Tuesday the 27-year-old mother of three, two of whom are U.S. citizens, will face her third deportation hearing. She could be forced to return to Guatemala, leaving her family behind.

“I see on the streets that there’s lots of crimes, tons of delinquents and real criminals,” she said. “I’m just in this situation for trying to help my family.”

Prince George’s County Executive Rushern Baker said the county abides by the rules of the Secure Communities program, which requires that fingerprints taken by local police of anyone they arrest to be passed along to federal immigration officials, who check their legal status of the arrestees before instigating deportation proceedings.

“Mr. Baker and his staff will be vigilant and monitor [the program] for abuses and will continue to encourage the state and federal government to find a solution allowing opportunities for those desiring citizenship in our country,” said Baker’s spokesman, Scott Peterson.

Advocates for immigrants say the Secure Communities program is encouraging police to make arrests based on racial profiles.

“A program that’s about our public safety probably shouldn’t be deporting residents with outstanding parking tickets or for driving without a license,” B. Loewe, spokesman for the National Day Laborer Organizing Network.

Local officials say they are only enforcing the law. The county submitted to ICE the fingerprints of more than 25,000 people who were arrested since December 2009 and 223 were deported, a decision made exclusively by ICE, said Mary Lou McDonough, director of the Prince George’s County Correctional Center.

ICE officials said that while the Secure Communities program was designed to identify and deport those with criminal records, the agency can’t ignore those who may not have committed serious felonies but are in the United States illegally, as is the case with Lorenzo-Desimilian’s expired visa, which is itself a federal crime.

“ICE prioritizes the arrest and removal of criminal aliens who pose a threat to our communities,” ICE spokeswoman Cori Bassett said.

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Disparities in deportation program raise questions

Disparities in deportation program raise questions

By Shankar Vedantam
Washington Post Staff Writer
Tuesday, December 21, 2010

Despite vows by the Obama administration to focus its immigration enforcement efforts on criminals, a quarter of those who have been deported through a program called Secure Communities had not been convicted of committing any crime, government statistics show. And that percentage was vastly higher in some jurisdictions, including Prince George’s County, where two-thirds of the 86 undocumented immigrants were not criminals.

The Prince George’s rate of noncriminal deportation was the second-highest in the country among counties or cities with at least 50 removals, according to U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement figures through the end of July, the latest numbers made available.

By comparison, 15 percent of the 105 immigrants removed from Prince William County, which has taken a much tougher stance toward illegal immigrants than Prince George’s, were not criminals. Even Maricopa County in Arizona – home to Joe Arpaio, the self-proclaimed “toughest sheriff in America” – deported noncriminals at a rate of less than half that of Prince George’s.

The disparities have left local authorities puzzled and immigrant rights activists outraged.

Immigration officials declined to explain the disparities but defended Secure Communities, which is becoming the nation’s central immigration enforcement mechanism.

Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano recently credited the program with helping to produce a more than 70 percent increase in deportations of criminals, including gang members, murderers and drug traffickers.

“Secure Communities has resulted in the arrest of more than 59,000 convicted criminal aliens, including more than 21,000 convicted of major violent offenses like murder, rape, and the sexual abuse of children,” Napolitano said.

Immigration rights groups say the program has led to the removal of tens of thousands of illegal immigrants who have committed far less serious crimes or none at all.

“The numbers out of Prince George’s are absurd,” said Gustavo Andrade, organizing director of CASA of Maryland, an immigrant rights group that is active in the county. “Even one family destroyed because of this kind of program makes it unacceptable.”

John Erzen, a spokesman for the Prince George’s Department of Corrections, and Maj. Andrew Ellis, a county police spokesman, said they were not aware of any police or jail practices that could explain the numbers. They said that federal authorities decide whom to detain and deport through Secure Communities, which will soon be operating across the country.

The program uses fingerprints collected by local authorities when people are charged with anything from a traffic violation to murder. After the prints are run through a federal database, anyone found to be in the United States illegally can be ordered detained while federal authorities initiate deportation proceedings.
Criminals, noncriminals

Launched by the George W. Bush administration and expanded dramatically by the Obama administration, Secure Communities is primarily designed to target and deport violent criminals. But it also identifies visa violators, fugitives and those who have crossed the border illegally before.

Beth Gibson, assistant deputy director of ICE, said that some of those listed as noncriminals may have been removed before legal proceedings were completed against them. A person charged with assault and fingerprinted by police, for example, may have been released on bail on the criminal charge and then detained by ICE and deported on immigration charges before the criminal charge was fully prosecuted, she said.

(Although being in the country without papers can sometimes be a crime – especially when the person is a repeat offender – undocumented immigration is usually an administrative violation.)

Brian Hale, an ICE spokesman, said that some of the people listed as noncriminals may have previously entered the country illegally, which is a federal felony if charges are successfully pressed, or may have been fugitives. As an example, he cited the jurisdiction with the country’s highest rate of noncriminal deportation: Jefferson Parish in Louisiana.

Fifty-three of the 146 noncriminal immigrants removed from the parish “were illegal reentrants or fugitives,” Hale said in an e-mail. “Other aliens, even if not illegal reentrants or fugitives, may have a lengthy immigration history or have been encountered multiple times at the border.”

Gibson and Hale said that the agency has a mandate to remove people who are in the country illegally, regardless of whether they have been found guilty of a crime.

“Our prioritization of criminals and fugitives does not amount to a de facto amnesty for people who are not criminals and fugitives,” Gibson said.
Politics of enforcement

The Obama administration has sought to demonstrate that it is serious about enforcement even as it has pushed for an overhaul of U.S. immigration laws. But reform has stalled despite a record number of deportations over the past two years.

On Saturday, a measure that would have created a path to citizenship for hundreds of thousands of undocumented immigrants who were brought to the United States as children died in the Senate, with opponents calling it backdoor amnesty for lawbreakers.

Deporting nearly 800,000 undocumented immigrants has failed to satisfy Obama’s critics, who say they don’t think he has been tough enough in going after the country’s estimated 11 million illegal immigrants. At the same time, the stepped-up enforcement has alienated some Latino voters and their advocates.

A senior White House official who spoke on the condition of anonymity to talk candidly said that Secure Communities has removed a large number of illegal immigrants who were not violent threats to public safety. The official also said that the program’s priorities are in the right place and that the percentage of violent and dangerous criminals being removed would continue to climb.

Until a few months ago, the government was reporting an even higher number of noncriminal deportations through Secure Communities than current figures.

Statistics through the end of April show that 45 percent of the undocumented immigrants deported via the program had not been convicted of any crime.

After the deportations had been completed, a manual audit of the cases found that many people listed as noncriminals had criminal histories, Hale said.

As a result, the number of noncriminal deportations through July 31 dropped across the country. In Maricopa County, the deportation rate for noncriminals fell from 54 percent through April to 32 percent through July. In San Diego, the numbers fell from 63 to 21 percent.

The number of noncriminals removed from Prince George’s was initially listed as 74 percent but dropped to 67 percent.

“Do we trust the July numbers, the April numbers or neither?” asked Bridget Kessler, a clinical teaching fellow at the Cardozo Law School Immigration Justice Clinic in New York, which is suing ICE for information about the Secure Communities program on behalf of an immigrant rights group known as the National Day Laborer Organizing Network. “The program isn’t doing what ICE had said it was meant to do.”

CASA de Maryland Protest

Recently Prince George County decided to participate in the failed “Secure Communities” program. The protest was sparked by the case of 26 year-old Florinda Fabiola Lorenzo- Desimilian of Gables Residence, who was arrested last Tuesday for selling $2 telephone cards without a license in her home, taken into custody leaving her 13 month old baby, 5 year-old and 10 year old in the custody of her parents, and subsequently transferred to ICE custody by the County.

“Maryland mom may face deportation” (Washington Post)
On Monday night, CASA of Maryland staged a protest outside the Prince George’s County jail. About 60 members of the county’s Latino community are calling attention to Lorenzo-DeSimilian’s case. They’re blaming correctional officials for sending her fingerprints to the FBI, Fox 5 reports.
Click here to read the full article.

“Lawmakers protest possible deportation of Langley Park mother” (Maryland Gazette)
A protest is planned Monday to fight the possible deportation of a 26-year-old Langley Park mother who was arrested for selling phone cards without a license from her home.

“She’s not a threat,” said Del. Victor Ramirez (D-Dist. 47) of Cheverly. “Should you really be deporting a non-violent mother of three? There are much bigger problems we could be using our resources for.”

Click here to read the full article.

Lawmakers protest possible deportation of Langley Park mother

A protest is planned Monday to fight the possible deportation of a 26-year-old Langley Park mother who was arrested for selling phone cards without a license from her home.

“She’s not a threat,” said Del. Victor Ramirez (D-Dist. 47) of Cheverly. “Should you really be deporting a non-violent mother of three? There are much bigger problems we could be using our resources for.”

Four county police officers arrested Florinda Faviola Lorenzo-Desimilian at her apartment in the Gables Residential complex Tuesday night for allegedly selling pre-paid phone cards out of her home. She was charged with doing business without a trader’s license, which is a misdemeanor, according to court records.

Read the full article at the website.