Category Archives: Press (Washington DC)

D.C. Sets Limits on Fingerprint Program (National Journal)

D.C. Sets Limits on Fingerprint Program
By Stephanie Czekalinski
Updated: June 6, 2012 | 5:15 p.m.
June 6, 2012 | 3:42 p.m.
(AP Photo/Chris Schneider)

Secure Communities, the rapidly growing federal program that uses inmate fingerprints to determine whether people booked into local jails are in the country illegally, launched in Washington, D.C., on Tuesday. The District’s council responded by limiting the role that its jails play in the program.

The FBI on Tuesday began sharing the fingerprints of people held in District of Columbia jails with Immigration and Customs Enforcement.

The change did not sit well with the D.C. government. On Tuesday, the D.C. Council moved to limit the District’s participation in the federal Secure Communities program that uses fingerprints to help ICE identify illegal immigrants booked into local jails and to deport them.

The legislation would limit to 24 hours the amount of time that jailers can hold a detainee for ICE after that person normally would have been released. The jailers will only do that for people convicted of a “dangerous crime or a crime of violence,” and only if the federal government agrees to reimburse the District for the costs of holding that person.

The bill, which awaited the mayor’s signature on Wednesday, is expected to become law within days.

Critics have long argued that the Secure Communities program results in the deportation of people arrested for minor crimes and traffic violations. They also complain that it breeds distrust for local law enforcement among immigrant communities, which see local police as proxies for immigration agents.

Earlier this month, D.C. Mayor Vincent Gray released a statement expressing his disappointment that the federal government was going to implement the program in Washington.

“In areas like the District that have large immigrant communities, police rely on the trust of those community members that their immigration status will not be threatened by their cooperation in local law-enforcement investigations,” he wrote in the statement. “Secure Communities jeopardizes that trust, and consequently makes everybody less safe.”

In 2011, Gray signed an executive order directing D.C. police not to detain individuals because of their immigration status.

Virginia and Maryland both participate in the program. According to ICE, 3,594 people convicted of crimes have been deported after being booked into their jails since 2009.

Since 2008, ICE has removed more than 189,700 immigrations nationwide. More than 55 percent of those were deported after being arrested for minor crimes; overstaying a visa or ignoring a deportation order; or returning to the country after being deported. At least 51,600 of those deported through the program had been convicted of major drug offenses, national-security crimes, and violent crimes such as murder, robbery, rape, and kidnapping.

States and other jurisdictions cannot opt out of the program, according to ICE. When state and local authorities arrest someone and run their fingerprints through an FBI database, that information is automatically shared with ICE.

ICE agents then determine whether to ask jails to hold that person until they can come to take them into custody.

Norton signs on to congressional opposition of Secure Communities (Wash Times)

Norton signs on to congressional opposition of Secure Communities
By Tom Howell Jr.
Published on November 22, 2011, 01:05PM

D.C. Delegate Eleanor Holmes Norton added to the District’s groundswell of opposition to Secure Communities — a federal program intended to deport violent offenders who are in the country illegally — by signing a letter that calls on President Obama to immediately terminate the program.

Mrs. Norton, the District’s non-voting member of Congress, joined more than 30 House members in condemning the program, saying a recent task force report “makes clear that Secure Communities sows mistrust of the police and other uniformed personnel, thereby making our communities less safe,” according to the letter.

The Secure Communities program was designed to join federal, state and local agencies in removing serious criminals not in the United States legally.

Critics question whether the program, in which localities share with ICE and the FBI the fingerprints of individuals booked into jails to determine their immigration status, meets the intended goal of removing dangerous aliens or potentially divides families by deporting nonviolent immigrants.

“We urge you to immediately stop Secure Communities,” the House letter says. “We cannot make our communities safer by tearing them apart.”

The District’s local leaders have signaled their distrust of the program in recent weeks.

D.C. Mayor Vincent C. Gray signed an order in October that prohibits public-safety officers from asking people about their immigration status. The order also directs officers in seven D.C. agencies not to arrest people based only on their immigration status and draws a bright line between local duties and federal law enforcement.

Last week, the D.C. Council unanimously supported a measure that cuts in half the amount of time, from 48 hours to 24 hours, that Immigration and Customs Enforcement has to pick up a D.C. inmate being held on a federal immigration detainer. It also requires the federal government to pay for the detainee’s stay.

Counties Vow Not to Detain Immigrants on ICE’s Behalf (Colorlines)

Counties Vow Not to Detain Immigrants on ICE’s Behalf
by Julianne Hing

Tuesday, October 25 2011, 10:00 AM EST

Cooperating with the federal government’s immigration enforcement agenda may be mandatory for local law enforcement, but localities are finding ways around the federal government’s programs.

Last week northern California’s Santa Clara County became the latest locality to pass an ordinance that will likely curb the number of its residents who get handed over to federal immigration authorities through the immigration enforcement program Secure Communities. That same week, Washington, D.C. mayor Vincent Gray signed an executive order reaffirming the rights of D.C. residents not to get harassed by law enforcement officers about their immigration status.

These announcements are the latest in a string of similar moves from other counties which have attempted to push back on the federal government’s interpretation of its Secure Communities program. S-Comm, as the initiative is often called, allows immigration officials to check the fingerprints of everyone booked into a local or county jail against federal immigration records. Even if the person is wrongfully arrested or never charged with any crime, they become subject to deportation if they’re found to be undocumented. If a match is found, Immigration and Customs Enforcement — if it doesn’t already have an agent posted inside the local jail — will call local law enforcement and ask them to detain a person while ICE agents come down to the jail to take them away for detention proceedings.

Santa Clara County has now determined that enforcing such detainers for ICE are “requests” from the federal government which it’s under no obligation to carry out. It’s further argued that holding onto people in county jails for ICE is a costly financial burden that localities, which are not reimbursed by the federal government, should not to have enforce.

“Today is historic,” said Santa Clara County Supervisor George Shirakawa on the day of the vote, New America Media reported. “We now have the most progressive policy in this field, and the whole nation will be looking at us as Santa Clara County makes it official: we don’t do ICE’s job.”

Washington, D.C. Mayor Gray signed an executive order that also promised to stop the practice of holding onto people for ICE longer than the legally mandated 48-hour period, which localities have done as a courtesy to the federal agency.

“We’re not going to be instruments of federal law when it comes to immigration status,” Gray said last week, Washington D.C.’s WTOP reported.

Such resistance comes as the federal government is pushing harder and harder to limit states’ attempts to opt out of the once-optional program. This past summer, after the governors of Illinois, New York and Massachusetts all attempted to opt out or distance their states from the program, the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) responded by canceling every contract it had drawn up with participating states. DHS argued that the program was not optional after all.

The program has been a cornerstone of the Obama administration’s deportation agenda, and been a primary driver of the administration’s record-breaking deportation rates.

While the loudest resistance to the program has come from immigrant rights advocates, local law enforcement officers have also been vocal in their criticisms. Traditionally, immigration violations are civil offenses that are not enforced by local law enforcement.

But that’s no longer the case.

The school of thinking among a growing number of law enforcement experts, and not just immigrant advocates, is that forcing police to help the federal government enforce immigration law breaks down trust in a community, and hampers police officers’ ability to do their primary job of ensuring public safety.

Partnerships between local law enforcement and immigration officials “creates the very distinct impression that police are agents of ICE,” said Stephen Smith, the organizing director of the Illinois Coalition of Immigrant and Refugee Rights. “And if you think the police are agents and you are part of a mixed status family, you don’t call the police and you don’t report crimes on your own.”

Earlier this summer San Francisco Sheriff Michael Hennessy, citing exactly this reasoning, announced that he’d no longer honor ICE detainer requests for people who were arrested by not charged with a crime; those who were victims of domestic violence and those with no prior criminal record. Last month Illinois’ Cook County, where the cost of detaining people on behalf of ICE amounts to $15.7 million dollars a year, passed a local ordinance similar to Santa Clara County’s. Smith credited local law enforcement officials in Illinois and around the country for providing leadership on the issue to get these ordinances passed.

“The unsung heroes in this are the law enforcement officials who are providing legitimacy to claims that if anything, these programs make us less safe, not more safe,” Smith said.

While other attempts to end participation in Secure Communities have not been successful, localities have been able to assert this kind of resistance so far.

“I think what sheriffs and what localities are doing in setting this trend is totally within their right and within their scope of local jurisdiction,” said B. Loewe, a spokesperson with the National Day Laborer Organizing Network, which is organizing to dismantle Secure Communities. “How their agencies respond to [detainer] requests is within their purview.”

“Jurisdictions who ignore detainers bear the risk of possible dangers to public safety,” ICE spokesperson Gillian Christensen said this summer, US News reported.

According to Smith, such framing is a disingenuous ploy, since local ordinances that limit localities’ cooperation with detainer requests do not bar the federal government from picking up the tab for these costs.
Secure Communities is slated to be operational across the entire country by 2013.

Meant to Ease Fears of Deportation Program, Federal Hearings Draw Anger (NYT)

Meant to Ease Fears of Deportation Program, Federal Hearings Draw Anger
Published: August 25, 2011

A task force set up by the Obama administration to ease political tensions over a deportation program has held the last of four public hearings, which instead served largely to galvanize vocal protests against the policy.

Immigrant, labor and church groups walked out halfway through the session Wednesday in Arlington, Va., banging drums and denouncing the hearing as a “sham” intended to gloss over deep problems with the program, known as Secure Communities.

Immigrant and Latino groups also marched out of hearings this month in Los Angeles and Chicago, calling for a halt to the program. In Chicago, six illegal immigrants, all students, were arrested after briefly stopping traffic outside the hearing. The students were later released. The first hearing, in Dallas, drew heated debate but less militant protests.

With a series of initiatives since June, the Obama administration has sought to tighten the focus of its deportation strategy on illegal immigrants who also have been convicted of crimes, especially serious violent and drug offenses. Officials say the rapid expansion of Secure Communities to cover the whole country by 2013 is part of that plan.

At the same time, senior administration officials announced measures last week to cancel deportation proceedings against many noncitizens who are charged with immigration violations (which generally are civil offenses), but who had not committed crimes.

A 21-member Secure Communities task force was established in June by John Morton, the director of Immigration and Customs Enforcement, the agency running the program, in response to resistance from states and cities. Mr. Morton assigned the group to examine narrow issues concerning the program’s impact that had drawn complaints from immigrant leaders.

But the task force soon decided to hold hearings, concluding they needed to hear directly about the groundswell of discontent stirred by the program. The task force includes local law enforcement officers, immigration lawyers and representatives of immigration agents’ unions.

In a letter Thursday, more than 160 immigrant rights organizations said that Immigration and Customs Enforcement was a “rogue agency,” and they called on the members of the task force to resign.

Under Secure Communities, the fingerprints of everyone booked into jail are checked against the F.B.I.’s criminal databases — long a routine police practice — and also against Department of Homeland Security databases, which record immigration violations.

“This program at its heart is about serious offenders,” Chuck Wexler, the executive director of the Police Executive Research Forum and the task force’s chairman, said Thursday. “I don’t think there is any question that a number of people being caught up in the system don’t fit the criteria of serious offender.”

He said the hearings had revealed many episodes when detention of immigrants who were not dangerous criminals had led to mistrust of the local police, even though immigration enforcement is handled by federal authorities.

Mr. Wexler said the hearings had shown that “every time someone who is not considered a serious offender is picked up and put into deportation proceedings, it undermines the credibility of the program.”

Most people who spoke at the hearings opposed the program, Mr. Wexler said, but many local law enforcement and government officials had expressed support. The task force will issue a final report in September.

In Arlington, about 150 protesters marched to the hearing on the campus of George Mason University, chanting, “Hey, Obama, don’t deport my mama.”

During the hearing, Maria Bolaños, 28, an immigrant from El Salvador, approached an immigration official sitting in the audience to confront him directly. She said she had been detained after calling the police following a fight with her partner. She has been charged with illegal sale of phone cards, she said, a charge she denied.

“I wouldn’t call the police again, and I know many people that wouldn’t do the same,” said Ms. Bolaños, who spoke in Spanish through an interpreter.

Paul Showalter, 51, an American who spoke in favor of the program, said a young illegal immigrant had been murdered in his Arlington neighborhood by another immigrant. “So I, as a taxpayer in the State of Virginia, get to pay to house that individual for 20 years to life,” said Mr. Showalter. “One young man is dead, another is behind bars, because no one checked.”

A senior official from the immigration agency at the hearing said they had been surprised by the strong criticism. “In spite of what we’ve been trying to do to get the word out about what Secure Communities is, we clearly are not making ourselves clear,” said Gary Mead, a top official in charge of deportations. He said that the local police generally avoid arresting victims or witnesses of crimes.

“If you don’t get arrested, you don’t get your fingerprints submitted to the F.B.I., you will never become a subject of Secure Communities,” Mr. Mead said.