Category Archives: Press (Washington DC)

Local Immigration Activists Speak To Secure Communities Task Force (WAMU)

Local Immigration Activists Speak To Secure Communities Task Force
by Armando Trull

August 25, 2011 – The Secure Communities program is a federal immigration enforcement program that aims to identify and deport undocumented immigrants who pose a threat to public safety. But Arlington County and the District have tried to “opt out” of the program for fear it will lead to racial profiling. Now ICE is trying to make the Secure Communities program more acceptable.

Secure Communities Protest Immigrants rights activists marched outside the George Mason University Law Center in Arlington, Va. where a Department of Homeland Security task force held a hearing on Secure Communities Aug. 24.

Secure Communities is a mandate that allows the FBI to share the fingerprints of anyone arrested by local police with Immigration and Customs Enforcement officers.

At a rally outside a Homeland Security task force meeting in Arlington, Va. Wednesday night, several hundred protesters yell in Spanish, “Listen up Obama, we’re in the fight.”

Another chant: “Hey Obama, don’t deport my mama.”

That underscores the main criticism against the Secure Communities program — that people arrested for minor offenses wind up facing deportation.

The Obama Administration recently issued a policy decision stating that immigration courts will prioritize the 300,000 outstanding deportation cases to focus on violent offenders. But immigration activists are still looking for the complete cancellation of Secure Communities.

Lenny Gonzalez, with the Virginia Coalition of Latino Organizations, focuses on the issue during her testimony at the hearing before the task force.

“Tell me how can I get out of this program,” she says. “We don’t need it. We don’t want it.”

Dallas County Sheriff Lupe Valdez sits on the Homeland Security panel, which is looking at ways to improve how the program is implemented.

“Yes, there’s been some errors. That’s understandable. That’s why we’re here, to take care of the errors,” she says. “But who does not want to come to live in a better community?”

The Department of Homeland Security says by 2013 the Secure Communities program will be fully deployed and the fingerprints of anyone arrested anywhere in the us will be checked against a database at the federal immigration office.

States Resisting Program Central to Obama’s Immigration Strategy (NYT)

States Resisting Program Central to Obama’s Immigration Strategy

Photo by Alex Wong / Getty Images

A program that is central to President Obama’s strategy to toughen enforcement of immigration laws is facing growing resistance from state governments and police officials across the country.

Late Wednesday, Gov. Pat Quinn of Illinois said he was pulling his state out of the program, known as Secure Communities, the first time a state has sought to withdraw entirely. In California, where the program is already under way throughout the state, the Legislature is considering a bill that would allow counties or police agencies to choose whether to participate.

In Massachusetts, Gov. Deval Patrick has held a series of heavily attended and sometimes raucous meetings on the program in an effort to vent criticism and build support for the administration’s approach. In Maryland, Montgomery County considered withdrawing, then concluded reluctantly that it had to take part.

Under the program, the fingerprints of every person booked by the police are checked against Department of Homeland Security databases for immigration violations. That is in addition to routine checks against the F.B.I.’s criminal databases.

State officials and federal lawmakers have questioned the program, saying that Homeland Security officials conveyed misleading information about whether participation was mandatory or whether states could opt out. Some state officials, led by Governor Quinn, said the program was not accomplishing its stated goal of deporting convicted criminals, but had swept up many immigrants who were here illegally but had not been convicted of any crime.

Mr. Obama has begun an effort, seen on both sides of the aisle in Congress as an uphill fight, to win support for some kind of immigration legislation this year.

But the resistance to Secure Communities has exposed tensions in the president’s immigration strategy, which has led to record numbers of deportations — almost 800,000 — in the past two years. The deportations have antagonized Latino immigrant communities that want Mr. Obama to press for legislation offering legal status to illegal immigrants, and that strongly supported Democrats in recent elections. Yet the deportations have not convinced many Republicans that the administration is strong enough on enforcement.

The states’ objections are setting up a confrontation with the Department of Homeland Security, whose secretary, Janet Napolitano, has said that Secure Communities is mandatory and will be extended to all jurisdictions in the country by 2013. The program, started in Texas in 2008, is currently operating in more than 1,200 local jurisdictions.

At a Congressional hearing this week, Ms. Napolitano said that the program was crucial to the department’s goal of finding criminal immigrants in state and local jails and deporting them.

Governor Quinn, in a letter to Immigration and Customs Enforcement, the agency that runs the Secure Communities program, said the Illinois State Police were withdrawing because the program had not met the terms of a 2009 agreement with the state. Under that memorandum, the program’s purpose was to identify and deport immigrants “who have been convicted of serious criminal offenses.”

Statistics from the immigration agency showed that nearly one-third of immigrants deported from Illinois under the program had no criminal convictions. It is a civil violation for an immigrant to be in the United States illegally; it is not a crime.

“Illinois signed up to help I.C.E. remove criminals convicted of serious crimes, but based on the statistics from I.C.E., that’s not what was happening,” said Brie Callahan, the governor’s spokeswoman.

Governor Quinn, a Democrat, suspended the program in November and entered negotiations with homeland security officials. Illinois officials decided to withdraw after concluding that the immigration agency’s operation of the program was “flawed,” the governor’s office said.

So far, 26 out of 102 local jurisdictions in Illinois had begun participating. Governor Quinn asked the agency to “deactivate” those places.

Immigration agency officials said that John Morton, the head of the agency, would go to Springfield, Ill., on Friday to meet with officials there. In a statement, the agency said it was conducting a full review of the program “to identify any irregularities that could indicate misconduct in particular jurisdictions” and to tighten its focus on criminals.

Most criticism of the program has come from Democratic allies of Mr. Obama. The Congressional Hispanic Caucus has asked him to suspend the program and re-organize it to focus more closely on deporting violent criminals, drug traffickers and other serious offenders. The American Immigration Lawyers Association also called on Mr. Obama this week to suspend the program.

Republicans in Congress, seeking even tougher enforcement of immigration laws, would like to see more of the program.

“All too often, illegal immigrants who have committed crimes go on to commit more,” said Lamar Smith of Texas, the Republican chairman of the House Judiciary Committee. “To make our streets safer, state and local governments should embrace Secure Communities,” he said. “Opposition to this program endangers Americans.”

California’s concerns were first raised by several local law enforcement officials, including Michael Hennessey, the longtime sheriff of San Francisco. They argued that engaging local police in immigration enforcement would erode hard-earned trust with Latino and other immigrant communities. Representative Zoe Lofgren of California, the top-ranking Democrat on the House Judiciary immigration subcommittee, began questioning immigration agency officials on whether local police and governments could opt out.

This year, the National Day Laborer Organizing Network, an immigrant advocate organization, obtained a trove of e-mails and other internal documents concerning Secure Communities from the immigration agency through a Freedom of Information request.

After examining those documents, Ms. Lofgren and Senator Robert Menendez of New Jersey, also a Democrat, demanded that the homeland security inspector general open an investigation. Ms. Lofgren said officials had deliberately misled local governments into thinking they could choose to opt out of the program.

“I believe that some false and misleading statements may have been made intentionally, while others were made recklessly,” Mr. Lofgren wrote the inspector general.

In an apologetic response, Mr. Morton, the head of the immigration agency, said the agency “takes full responsibility for the confusion and inconsistent statements” about participation. But he said expanding Secure Communities remained a top priority.

In Massachusetts, Governor Patrick said late last year that he would accept the program statewide, then paused after an outcry from immigrant organizations, who said it was bound to catch many illegal immigrant workers with no criminal history. The town meetings he organized have drawn both opponents and very vocal supporters of the program.

How a once-'voluntary' immigrant-ID program evolved

How a once-‘voluntary’ immigrant-ID program evolved

Thursday, February 17, 2011 12:00 am

WASHINGTON – A voluntary program to run all criminal suspects’ fingerprints through an immigration database was voluntary only until cities refused to participate, recently released documents show.

The Obama administration then tightened the rules so that cities had no choice but to have the fingerprints checked.

Thousands of documents made public by the Homeland Security Department provide a behind-the-scenes glimpse of how the administration scrambled to quiet the criticism and negative publicity surrounding the immigration-enforcement program known as Secure Communities.

The administration rewrote the program’s participation rules, the documents show, considered withholding federal funding and FBI information from resisters, and eventually dug up case law to justify requiring cooperation.

Throughout the turmoil, according to the documents, top officials knew they would get local resistance and were advised in late 2009 that the fingerprints could be checked against the immigration database without local buy-in.

“The SC (Secure Communities) initiative will remain voluntary at the state and local level. … Until such time as localities begin to push back on participation, we will continue with this current line of thinking,” says an e-mail written by Randi Greenberg, the communications and outreach chief of the program. It was sent to several people whose names DHS blacked out before releasing the documents.

The pushback came.

Washington, D.C.; Cook County, Ill.; Santa Clara, Calif.; Arlington, Va.; San Francisco; Philadelphia; and the states of Oregon, Washington, Minnesota and Colorado either raised questions or tried to avoid participating, according to the documents. The communities are only a small percentage of more than 1,000 that willingly became part of the program or didn’t oppose the state signing them up with Immigration and Customs Enforcement.

By fall of last year, ICE decided local officials could not stop immigration officials from culling the fingerprints. The locals could only refuse to receive the information from the federal government on the immigration status of people they were holding in their jails. Local officials, however, still had to hold noncitizens for ICE if asked.

Patricia Montes, executive director of Centro Presente, a Latino immigrant advocacy group in Somer-ville, Mass., said the documents showed federal officials are giving local officials “mixed messages” and only added to the “confusion and fear” among various immigrant communities.

Some local law enforcement agencies generally resist the job of policing immigration. Politically, they feel it’s a federal responsibility. Practically, they want residents to feel free to report crimes and act as witnesses without fear of being caught as illegal immigrants.

The documents were released as a result of a Freedom of Information lawsuit. The Associated Press obtained the documents from Homeland Security after a New York federal district court judge overseeing the lawsuit ordered them made public.

Dishonesty Is Not the Best Policy, Neither Is Secure Communities (Video)

Dishonesty Is Not the Best Policy, Neither Is Secure Communities
by Pablo Alvarado
Director, National Day Laborer Organizing Network
Posted: November 24, 2010 07:45 AM

When the Director of the Immigration and Customs Enforcement Agency’s “Secure Communities” program, David Venturella said, “Have we created some of the confusion out there? Absolutely we have,” at a speaking event last week, he showed that my first blog post here titled, “Democracies Don’t Govern in Secret,” was wrong. Not only does this democracy govern in secret, it also runs on lies.

How Secure Communities Works Venturella is in charge of the fastest spreading deportation program in the country. The Orwellian named “Secure Communities” program ropes local law enforcement into immigration by sharing fingerprints from anyone booked at a local jail with the federal immigration authorities. It currently operates in over 700 jurisdictions and is scheduled to be active nationwide by 2013.

Critics including the Sheriff of San Francisco and the Arlington, VA county board worry that the program undermines community-policing, incentivizes racial profiling, prevents victims of crimes from approaching police, and creates a burden on states who will be housing more detainees under the effort. However, across the board, even the agency itself agrees that it hasn’t been forthcoming with information or consistent with details.

The lack of information and continued mixed messages from the administration moved my organization, represented by the Center for Constitutional Rights and Cardozo School of Law to sue the agency for transparency under the Freedom of Information Act this past Spring.

On December 9th, we’ll be in front of a judge arguing for an emergency injunction to release documents related to local governments ability to choose not to participate in the program.

We feel its necessary because the program is being implemented at break-neck speed and in that haste, women like Maria Bolaños are being caught up in the system. Bolaños is a survivor of domestic violence whose call to the police for help resulted in deportation proceedings under the Secure Communities program.

She confronted Venturella, the director of the program trying to deport her, at a speech he gave in Washington. D.C. Instead of engaging Bolaños or responding to her request for her case to be dropped, Venturella ducked the issue and denied responsibility, saying that her case had nothing to do with Secure Communities, a fact that the Washington Post originally reported on and was reconfirmed by ICE within hours of Venturella’s response.

The Woodrow Wilson Center event was emblematic of ICE’s track record related to the program. In admitting responsibility for creating the confusion, Venturella was referring to the contradicting statements the agency’s made in the past. In September, ICE released a document called “Setting the Record Straight” where they stated, “ICE will discuss any issues… which may include removing the jurisdiction from the deployment plan.” Then in October, after Arlington, VA, San Francisco, and Santa Clara, CA took the opening as their cue to get out of the program, ICE claimed, “”We do not see this as an opt-in, opt-out program.”

However the “confusion” is not only in the past and at this point, is a euphemism for what the Washington Post calls “Reversals Sowing Mistrust.”

As if lying to a domestic violence survivor wasn’t bad enough Venturella’s other remarks painted a picture of a program wrought with more contradictions, gross mismanagement, and secrecy. Venturella opened the event saying, “The program that I oversee the locals do have the control of what information gets sent to us. We’re only going to respond to what is being provided to us.” But later added, “There was an impression created that local law enforcement could stop sending fingerprints to the federal government… That is not an option.” Only to then comment, “Under Secure Communities one of the responsibilities that the State Identification Bureau [is] to validate…unique identifiers. If they’re not going to do that then we can’t push that information to our system. So that’s the control that they have.”

Beyond the constant confusion about local governments’ ability to opt-out of the program, Venturella frustrated advocates when he revealed there is no official mechanism to receive complaints for cases similar to Bolaños, Demonstrating his own lack of knowledge of the program he directs, he referred any complaints to ICE’s civil rights department, a department that does not currently accept complaints generated from the Secure Communities program.

The back and forth, dishonesty, and revelations of mismanagement would move me to put an end to the program. But with thirteen states yet to join the program, numerous activated jurisdictions still trying to get out, and its current spokespeople unable or unwilling to set the record straight, isn’t it time for the courts to demand that they at least uncover the truth?

To model the transparency we believe ICE should have, you can watch the entire video at

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Reversals by immigration officials are sowing mistrust (WaPo)

Reversals by immigration officials are sowing mistrust

By Shankar Vedantam
Washington Post Staff Writer
Monday, November 22, 2010; A04

Months after Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano assured House Democrats that jurisdictions could opt out of a controversial immigration enforcement program, officials reversed themselves and said opting out was not possible.

Weeks after quelling a growing furor on the right by announcing an investigation into why an illegal immigrant who was driving drunk when he killed a nun in Prince William County had not been deported after two previous convictions, officials said they would not make the investigation’s results public.

And hours after a senior official, who was publicly challenged last week by a Maryland woman facing deportation, assured the woman that she had not been picked up under a controversial immigration program, officials said the woman had indeed been identified via the program, known as Secure Communities.

Advocates on both the right and the left say these and other incidents have created a climate of mistrust in which immigration officials initially tell people want they want to hear, only to antagonize them later when reality kicks in.

Defenders of the administration say the problem is that officials have been placed in the impossible position of enforcing laws that they themselves believe are unfair and outdated.

“We have made a very high priority of transparency and candor,” said Beth Gibson, assistant deputy director of Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE). “We have posted all our policies online . . . we are operating openly and forthrightly.”

But months after assuring Congress that local jurisdictions could opt out of Secure Communities – which runs fingerprints obtained by local police through a national database to see whether they belong to illegal immigrants – officials backtracked.

The letter Napolitano sent to Congress said, “a local law enforcement agency that does not wish to participate in the Secure Communities deployment plan must formally notify the Assistant Director for the Secure Communities program.”

But what they meant, officials said, was only that communities could temporarily postpone when they signed up for the program.

“If I were writing the sentence now, it would say, ‘Jurisdictions cannot opt out of Secure Communities, but we will work with you to mitigate your concerns,’ ” Gibson said.

Walter Tejada, an Arlington County Board member who spearheaded a resolution for the county to opt out of the program only to learn that it was impossible, said: “If that had been the case why didn’t they tell us in May? Why did we have to go through all this hoopla?”

Similarly, after a public outcry in August over why officials had not deported drunk driver Carlos Martinelly-Montano, officials at the Department of Homeland Security promised an investigation.

Once the report was completed, officials said, they were not going to make the results public. Spokesman Matthew Chandler said the findings would be shared with Congress and local law enforcement. A senior official, speaking on the condition of anonymity, previously said the report would not be publicly released because of “law enforcement sensitivities.”

“They say one thing and do another,” Corey Stewart, chairman of the Prince William Board of County Supervisors, complained recently about the federal agency. “They say they are going to do something and then backtrack.”

Last Thursday, when ICE Assistant Director David Venturella was confronted at a Wilson Center event by a Hyattsville woman in deportation proceedings about the Secure Communities program he heads, Venturella told Maria Bolanos that she had not been targeted via the program. “You were not a Secure Communities referral or a hit.”

Hours later, agency spokesman Brian Hale e-mailed to say: “To clarify this situation, Ms. Bolanos was in fact encountered through Secure Communities.”

Bolanos was detained by immigration officials after she received an arrest warrant for selling phone cards without a license. That charge stemmed from an earlier call for help she made to police during a domestic dispute. An officer who responded saw phone cards on her table and, believing she was selling them illegally, issued a summons. The charge was soon dropped, but by then Bolanos’s fingerprints had gone to ICE via the Secure Communities program, and she was detained and put into deportation proceedings.

Gibson said Venturella was only “trying to make a clear distinction that the domestic violence call was not a direct cause of her coming into ICE custody.”

“To me it is not news that someone from ICE is misrepresenting stuff,” said Gustavo Andrade, organizing director of CASA de Maryland, an immigration rights group that is helping Bolanos.

Doris Meissner, a former immigration chief during the Clinton administration and now a senior fellow at the Migration Policy Institute, said the problem was that Obama officials had found themselves in an impossible situation.

“On the one hand, they are embracing the idea that the laws need to be changed and current laws are not up to the task,” she said, referring to administration pleas for an overhaul of the immigration system. “At the same time, it is their responsibility as executive branch officials, as the responsible heads of agencies, to implement the laws currently on the books.”