Category Archives: Press (Texas)

Driving While Immigrant (The Nation)

Driving While Immigrant
Renée Feltz
July 8, 2011

On June 17, Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) announced a slate of reforms to its Secure Communities program that director John Morton said are about prioritizing its limited resources and “making sure we focus on those people it makes the most sense to remove.” In reality they amount to a political attempt to salvage Obama’s flagship immigration program, which despite a multi-million dollar mandate to target “dangerous criminal aliens,” has been undermined by ICE’s own data, which shows the majority of those it deports have no criminal record, or were charged with minor offenses like traffic tickets. Critics argue that the program has reestablished racial profiling as a legitimate policing practice. If the 1990s catch phrase was “Driving While Black,” now it could be “Driving While Immigrant.”

Take the example of Salvador Licea. Last August he was returning to his construction job in McGregor, Texas after a lunch break when a routine traffic stop turned into a check of his immigration status. A local police officer noticed Licea’s expired inspection sticker and pulled him over, then checked to see whether his driver’s license was also expired. It was. Recent changes in Texas law make it impossible for undocumented immigrants to renew their once valid licenses. So instead of getting a ticket, Licea was arrested and booked into a McLennan County jail that participates in Secure Communities. His fingerprints were automatically shared with federal immigration agents and he was marked eligible for deportation.

“What crime did I commit?” Licea asks. “I was just doing my thing, just trying to get to work.” He says he often felt nervous when he saw a police officer while driving, even when he had a valid license. “Is he going to stop me for breaking the law?” Licea says he would ask himself. “Or is he just going to stop me for the color of my skin?”

Mr. Licea’s charge was driving with an invalid license. He was among 80 percent of the 118 immigrants McLennan County has transferred into ICE custody since January 2010 who were non-criminals or accused of low-level traffic or misdemeanor offenses. This scenario has played out across the 1,417 jurisdictions that have enrolled in Secure Communities since it started in 2008 and report similar statistics. It has been cited by the three Democratic governors who backed out of the program this year – Pat Quinn of Illinois, Andrew Cuomo of New York, and Deval Patrick of Massachusetts.

These governors wanted to opt-out of Secure Communities —just like Arlington County, Virginia, which voted 5-0 to opt-out last September — but have found themselves similarly powerless to block the controversial program. Instead, in an attempt to address state and local concerns, Morton says he will grant more discretionary powers to federal attorneys handling deportation cases. Special consideration will now be given to veterans, victims of domestic abuse, women who are pregnant or nursing, and single parents like Licea, who is the sole provider for his two US-born daughters.

“It gives the ICE trial attorney the ability to do the right thing,” says David Leopold, president of the American Immigration Lawyers Association. “They can look at the person on the other side of the courtroom table, and evaluate them as a human being with individual circumstances.” This sounds good in theory, but other advocates say that such discretion could be exercised unevenly. And it comes long after an immigrant may have been unfairly singled out by police. “This reform happens five steps down the road,” notes Sunita Patel, a staff attorney with the Center for Constitutional Rights, “once the person is already detained, once they may have already waived their rights, once the harm has already been done.”

Even though Secure Communities doesn’t empower local police officers to check the immigration status of people they stop, it is clear it will be checked if he or she is arrested. With a nod to this increasingly common practice, Morton says ICE chose a group of “stakeholders” and gave it 45 days to come up with improvements to the program. But he limited their scope to considering whether immigrants who are charged with minor traffic offenses should only be deportable upon conviction. Patel says this fails to address racial profiling complaints.

Morton’s new reform package does include a training video produced for local law enforcement agencies enrolled in Secure Communities that explain what racial profiling is and remind officers that it is illegal. The problem? These officers already know racial profiling is against the law. “Putting into a video information that law enforcement should not be racially profiling—that is not likely to have a whole lot of impact,” says Margaret Huang, Executive Director of Rights Working Group, a DC-based organization founded after the bipartisan End Racial Profiling Act died on the floor of Congress in the aftermath of 9/11.

“Part of the reason it’s become acceptable to use racial profiling in immigration enforcement is because it has been deliberately tied into the national security context,” says Huang. But while many Americans may feel comfortable with airport screeners pulling aside someone wearing a turban, it is still worth asking if local police go too far by stopping people based on the color of their skin. If the answer is yes, then the Secure Communities program remains fatally flawed. Says Huang, “The theory and reality of Secure Communities is so far apart, it’s hard reconcile.”

High deporation rate to be discussed (KXAN)

High deporation rate to be discussed
Report: Texas’ rate is higher than Arizona

Published : Monday, 23 Aug 2010, 10:28 AM CDT

AUSTIN (KXAN) – The Texas Civil Rights Project and two immigration lawyers will hold a press conference Monday at 11 a.m. to discuss a new report which indicates a higher deportation rate for undocumented immigrants with no criminal records than that of the noted sheriff of Maricopa County, Arizona, Joe Arpaio.

Attorneys Jackie Watson and Edna Yang of American Gateway will talk at the office of TCRP, 1405 Montopolis Dr.

The report was issued by Benjamin N. Cardozo School of Law , Center for Constitutional Rights, and the National Day Laborer Organizing Network.

Travis County Leads Nation in Deportation of Non-criminals via Fed. Fingerprinting (Austin Market Examiner)

Travis County leads nation in deportation of non-criminals through federal fingerprinting program

August 10, 5:13 PM · John Egan – Austin Market Examiner

Travis County, Texas, so far has deported a higher percentage of non-criminals than any county in the federal government’s new Secure Communities project. The controversial program, launched in 2008, automatically checks fingerprint records of jail and prison inmates to see whether they’re in the United States illegally.

In Travis County, 82 percent of 724 total deportations under the Secure Communities program were of non-criminals, according to an analysis of federal data collected by a coalition of immigration advocacy groups. The Travis County data covers June 2009, when the county joined the program, through April 2010.

“This indicates police officers are picking up people on pretext, the criminal charges are getting dropped or dismissed, and they’re getting shuttled into deportation,” Bridget Kessler, clinical teaching fellow at the Immigration Justice Clinic of the Benjamin N. Cardozo School of Law, told reporters.

The clinic along with the National Day Laborer Organization Network and the Center for Constitutional Rights filed suit to obtain the federal data.

Nationwide, an average of 26 percent of all Secure Communities deportations were of non-criminals, the groups’ analysis of 2008-10 data shows. County-by-county data released by the federal government stretched from November 2008 through April 2010; the tally comprised more than 160 counties in 19 states.

In all, nearly 47,000 people identified through Secure Communities in the than 160 counties were deported from the United States, documents gathered by the advocacy groups indicate. Of those, nearly 12,300 were deemed non-criminals and more than 9,800 were tagged as having committed the most serious crimes.

Richard Rocha, an Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) spokesman, told The Associated Press that non-criminals may be people who failed to show up for deportation hearings, who recently crossed the border illegally or who re-entered the country after deportation.

The U.S. Department of Homeland Security has expanded the Secure Communities initiative to 27 states. By 2013, the Secure Communities program is expected to be rolled out nationwide.

“Secure Communities gives ICE the ability to work with our state and local law enforcement partners to identify criminal aliens who are already in their custody, expediting their removal and keeping our communities safer,” Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano said.

Secure Communities enables digital fingerprints obtained during the booking process to be checked against FBI criminal records and Homeland Security immigration records. By identifying any immigration record matches in jails and prisons, ICE can swiftly start deportation proceedings.

“The Secure Communities initiative reflects ICE’s ongoing commitment to smart, tough enforcement strategies that help ensure the apprehension of dangerous criminal aliens,” ICE Director John Morton said. “Expediting removals decreases the amount of time these individuals spend in ICE custody—saving taxpayers money and strengthening public safety.”

Immigration advocates complain that Secure Communities funnels people into the “mismanaged” ICE detention and deportation system, and serves as a “smokescreen” for racial profiling.

Pablo Alvarado, executive director of the National Day Laborer Organization Network, said: “This program creates an explosion of Arizona-like enforcement at a time when the results have proven disastrous.”

Center for Constitutional Rights attorney Sunita Patel added that Secure Communities “co-opts local police departments to do ICE’s dirty work at significant cost to community relations and police objectives.”

“Without full and truthful information about the program’s actual mission and impact, police are operating in the dark,” Patel said. “The bottom line is that thrusting police into the business of federal immigration enforcement isn’t good for anyone.”

Travis County Leads Nation in Deporting 'Noncriminal' Immigrants (American Statesman)

Travis County leads nation in deporting ‘noncriminal’ immigrants, groups find

Sheriff said he questions findings but will look into whether conclusions drawn from compiled data are accurate.
By Tony Plohetski

Updated: 12:39 p.m. Wednesday, Aug. 11, 2010

Published: 10:35 p.m. Tuesday, Aug. 10, 2010

Undocumented immigrants with no criminal histories are being deported from Travis County at a higher percentage than any other county in the United States, according to government statistics obtained and analyzed by several advocacy groups.

According to the groups, 82 percent of deportations of jail inmates through a federal fingerprint-sharing program in Travis County were of “noncriminals,” such as those with no violent histories.

The statistics were compiled by officials for national advocacy groups, including the Center for Constitutional Rights, which obtained raw data through a federal freedom of information request to U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement.

Travis County Sheriff Greg Hamilton, alerted to the statistics Tuesday, said he questions what the numbers show.

“We are going to have to do some looking into this,” Hamilton said. “I think those numbers are skewed, but we will find out.”

The expulsions have happened in recent months as federal agents nationally began reviewing fingerprints of inmates booked into county jails through a database-sharing program called Secure Communities. Federal officials have said the program helps identify and prioritize criminal immigrants who threaten public safety.

However, immigration advocates said the number of deportations of Travis County inmates highlights a problem with the program: People with no criminal histories are being removed.

“Secure Communities is marketed as a program that has as its mission targeting the worst of the worst – the most dangerous criminals most likely to present a danger to their communities,” said Bridget Kessler , clinical teaching fellow at the Benjamin N. Cardozo School of Law at Yeshiva University in New York , who was involved in the effort to compile the numbers. “So 82 percent doesn’t seem to represent the mission of the program at all.”

Critics said the program is similar to the Arizona law that makes local police and sheriffs central to enforcing immigration laws.

Federal officials said Tuesday that Secure Communities is in place in all 25 counties along the U.S.-Mexico border; the Obama administration wants it operational nationally by 2013.

According to statistics from October 2008 through June of this year, 46,929 people identified through Secure Communities were removed from the country. Of those, 12,293 were considered noncriminals.

California had the highest percentage of immigrants deported who had carried out serious crimes. In Georgia, 39 percent of 624 immigrants removed were noncriminals, the highest among all states, statistics showed.

Travis County led all counties with the highest percentage of deported noncriminals, the advocacy groups reported.

Sheriff’s spokesman Roger Wade said the department has a policy of not talking to inmates, suspects or crime victims about their immigration status. He said if inmates are targeted by federal officials because of immigration, officials release them to various agencies, including ICE, when they are ordered by a judge.

On Tuesday, several Austin immigration advocates said they were not surprised by the Travis County statistics.

Thomas Esparza Jr., an Austin immigration lawyer who opposes the program, said, “What we told the county commissioners is that this was going to sweep the wheat up with the chaff, and that’s obviously what’s happened here. They’re very efficient here in Travis County. Everybody gets a hold put on them.”

Nicole True, an Austin criminal defense and immigration attorney, said the program unfairly targets immigrants accused of minor, nonviolent offenses and makes Austin immigrants less likely to report crimes.

“It would make more sense if immigration (enforcement) focused on violent felonies … where most people in the community would agree that that’s a dangerous person,” True said. The program “breaks apart a lot of families and creates a lot of fear.”

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Additional material from staff writer Jeremy Schwartz and The Associated Pres