Category Archives: Press (Washington DC)

Domestic Violence Victim Confronts Director of "Secure Communities" (VIDEO)

For Immediate Release Contact: Rodolfo Pastor: (202) 577-3576; [email protected]
Domestic Violence Victim Confronts Director of “Secure Communities”
A Call for Help Led to Deportation Proceedings.

11.18.2010– Maria Bolanos, a domestic violence victim who’s call for help led to deportation proceedings, confronted David Venturella, director of the immigration enforcement program, “Secure Communities,” at today’s Woodrow Wilson Center panel discussion.

Bolanos demanded the program be ended and that her case be dropped immediately. “I do not want to be separated from my child. I am not a criminal. I ask that you terminate my case and all those under secure communities.” David Venturella refused to answer Maria’s petition and instead accused the Washington Post of inaccurate reporting. He refused to state whether the administration would stay her deportation.

Watch the dramatic video above or here:

Ms. Bolaños’ call for help resulted in her arrest when responding officers of Prince George’s County charged her with selling phone cards without a license. Though the charges were later dropped, Maria was placed into deportation proceedings through the ICE’s “Secure Communities” program.  Her case and others like it highlight the dangers of the rapidly expanding federal program that matches fingerprints of those taken into police custody with the federal immigration database, creating a deportation dragnet of innocent people and victims like Maria.

ICE is forcing the program upon at least three counties that have voted to not participate in the program due to its secretive nature and evidence of its damage to community and police relations. Those counties (Santa Clara, CA, San Francisco, and Arlington, VA) cite examples like Bolanos as reason for opting out of participation.

Maria’s courageous step to keep her family together and fight her deportation remains to be answered by the Obama Administration. She was joined by dozens of protestors outside as well as representatives from the AFL-CIO, Legal Momentum and other groups fighting domestic violence, as well as CASA de Maryland and the National Day Laborer Organizing Network.

Posted by Deport Nation on Thursday, November 18, 2010.

There were several tense moments today when David Venturella, the assistant director of Secure Communities, addressed a room full of immigration advocates at the Woodrow Wilson Center.

“This is a tough topic,” Venturella said during his opening remarks. “I understand it elicits a lot of emotion.”

At one point, Maria Bolanos, a domestic violence victim who’s call for help led to deportation proceedings, confronted David Venturella.

“I called the police after a fight with my partner. I thought they would help me,” said Bolanos, through Ashwini Jaisingh, a translator and organizer with Casa De Maryland. “But through this the police turned me over to ICE, and now I have a deportation order.”

Bolanos has a 21-month old daughter and asked Venturella to dismiss her case immediately.

Venterella said he did not want to discuss the case publicly, but told Bolanos her case “was not a Secure Communities referral.”

Several attorneys in the room offered other examples of cases where their clients had been turned over to ICE after they were taken into police custody after domestic violence disputes.

Call for help leads to possible deportation for Hyattsville mother (WaPo)

Call for help leads to possible deportation for Hyattsville mother
During a fight with her partner, Maria Bolanos called the police for protection. Now she faces deportation and possible separation from her daughter, who was born here and is a U.S. citizen.

By Shankar Vedantam
Washington Post Staff Writer
Monday, November 1, 2010; 3:33 PM

Last Christmas Eve, Maria Bolanos made a decision she would later regret: During a fight with her partner, she called the Prince George’s County police and sought their protection.

The call for help had disastrous consequences for Bolanos, a 28-year-old undocumented immigrant from El Salvador. Within months, she found herself ensnared in an increasingly controversial immigration enforcement program designed to deport undocumented criminals.

Bolanos now faces deportation and possible separation from her 21-month-old daughter, who was born here and is a U.S. citizen.

Her case illustrates what immigrant-rights advocates and some local officials consider the shortcomings of Secure Communities, the centerpiece of the Obama administration’s immigration enforcement efforts and a program that has helped generate a record number of deportations.

Secure Communities, which already operates in the District, Maryland, Virginia and will soon be running nationwide, relies on the fingerprints collected by local authorities when a person is charged with anything from a traffic violation to murder.

In Bolanos’s case, the officer who responded to the domestic dispute at her apartment in Hyattsville later charged her with illegally selling a $10 phone card to a neighbor – an allegation she denies. The charge was eventually dropped, but by then Bolanos had been been fingerprinted and found by Immigration and Customs Enforcement to be in the country illegally.

She has been told she probably will be deported after a Wednesday hearing before an immigration judge in Baltimore.

Officials with U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement said removals during the fiscal year that ended Sept. 30 included more than 1,000 murderers, nearly 6,000 sex-offenders, 45,000 drug-offenders and 28,000 drunk drivers. The number fell short of the agency expectation of 400,000 deportations but still surpassed the 2009 total of 387,790, the previous record.

Although ICE officials have touted the large numbers of criminals who are being deported via Secure Communities, they are unapologetic about the significant number of non-criminals being removed as well. In the past year, more than half of the 392,000 immigrants deported were convicted criminals; the rest had overstayed their visas or entered the country without authorization.

“ICE cannot and will not turn a blind eye to those who violate federal immigration law,” said Immigration and Customs Enforcement spokesman Brian Hale. “While ICE’s enforcement efforts prioritize convicted criminal aliens, ICE maintains the discretion to take action on any alien it encounters.”

Not surprisingly, immigrant-rights groups have been critical of the administration’s efforts to ratchet up deportations without delivering on the president’s campaign promise to create a path to citizenship for the country’s 11 million undocumented immigrants.

But Secure Communities also has come under attack in Arlington County, the District and other jurisdictions, where local officials worry that it is discouraging undocumented immigrants who are crime victims and witnesses from coming forward.

Those concerns are well justified, said Bolanos, speaking through a translator.

“You would have to be crazy to call the police,” she said. “I would never call the police again.”

Detained and desperate

Maria Bolanos works two jobs to pay her bills. She does janitorial work at an apartment complex Monday to Friday from 7 a.m. to 3 p.m. and pulls a 6 p.m. to 3 a.m. shift at a restaurant Thursday through Sunday.

“Dora the Explorer” plays endlessly on the TV in her second-floor apartment, in deference to the wishes of her daughter, Melisa Arellano-Bolanos.

Framed pictures of the the Last Supper and of Jesus and Mary hang above the dining table. A photo of Bolanos’s partner, Fernando Arellano, hugging Melisa is tucked into one corner of one of the frames.

Bolanos said she came to the United States in 2004 in search of a better life. She paid $7,000 to coyotes to help her cross the border via the Arizona desert.

The first time her party was caught, she said. She was released in the desert across the Arizona border from Mexico after being fingerprinted and photographed by authorities–and almost immediately crossed the border again.

She found her way to the Washington area and met Arellano at a restaurant where she worked. Arellano, now 34, was also undocumented and from Mexico. They fell in love and moved in together. Melisa was born in January 2008 at Washington Hospital Center.

The couple’s fight began when Arellano came home late on Christmas Eve, Bolanos said, and quickly escalated into a shouting match.

By the time police arrived, Arellano had left the apartment.

Police charged Arellano with assault. That charge was dropped when neither Bolanos nor the police officer showed up in court, according to a spokesman for the Prince George’s states attorney’s office.

Months later, the fight forgotten, Bolanos found an arrest warrant waiting for her on the charge she was selling phone cards without a license.

The charge was eventually thrown out, but not before she was fingerprinted and the prints were shared with ICE through Secure Communities.

Authorities determined that she was in the country illegally and ordered her detained. Her ankles and wrists were shackled, she said, and she was moved to a detention facility in Upper Marlboro.

Bolanos said that she told authorities she was still breastfeeding her daughter but that they initially disregarded her plea to be released. After a doctor found that her breasts were engorged with milk, she was fitted with a locator ankle bracelet and sent home, pending the deportation hearing Nov 3.

Dual deportation

In August, Arellano was booked by police for making an illegal traffic turn. Police found he did not have a driver’s license and arrested him. His fingerprints went to ICE, too – and he was detained. Now he is also facing deportation.

“In both of these cases, Secure Communities functioned exactly as it was designed to, allowing ICE to identify individuals booked into jail for a state crime and who were also present in the country unlawfully,” said ICE spokesman Hale.

But that’s not how immigrant rights group see it.

“ICE is misrepresenting the program in order to implement a nationwide deportation instrument, said Gustavo Andrade, organizing director at CASA de Maryland, which has been trying to help Bolanos. “Even one family destroyed because of this kind of program makes it unacceptable.”

Prince George’s State’s Attorney Glenn F. Ivey also expressed concern about a phone card charge leading to a deportation proceeding.

“We should target our limited state and federal law enforcement dollars on killers, rapists, child molesters, human traffickers and violent gang members,” Ivey said in a statement. “This kind of defendant should not be a high priority.”

If Bolanos and Arellano are both deported, he would have to go to Mexico and she to El Salvador, meaning Melisa would be left without at least one of her parents. In El Salvador, Bolanos said, her family has faced death threats from gangs, and her brother was killed a year ago.

As she talked, Melisa played with the charger attached to her mother’s ankle bracelet. Bolanos spends two hours every day charging the device, which looks like a BlackBerry attached to her leg with a thick band of black rubber. It hurts when she walks.

Bolanos wears long jeans to cover the ankle bracelet.

“I’m really ashamed to show it in public,” she said. “People see it and think I’m a murderer. I try to keep it covered at all times.”

Arlington County Rejects Federal “Secure Communities” Program (RWG)

For Immediate release
Contact: Nadine Wahab, Rights Working Group
[email protected]

Arlington County Rejects Federal “Secure Communities” Program
Statement by the Rights Working Group

Washington DC — September 29, 2010 – Yesterday afternoon, a historic decision was taken by the Arlington County (Virginia) Board when they unanimously adopted a resolution announcing their decision to withdraw from the federal “Secure Communities” program. Arlington joined the Santa Clara (California) Board of Supervisors who also rejected yesterday the attempt by U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement to impose immigration enforcement responsibilities on local law enforcement agencies.

The Arlington County Board Resolution notes:

“…there are concerns among Arlington County law enforcement and our residents that the Secure Communities Initiative will create divisions in our community and promote a culture of fear and distrust of law enforcement that threatens public safety and makes communities less safe… the unilateral imposition of the Secure Communities Initiative on Arlington County law enforcement agencies has deprived the residents of Arlington County, its elected officials, and its law enforcement officials of the opportunity to give full and proper consideration to the impact the program may have on our community…”

Through thoughtful consultation with the Arlington County Sheriff and Chief of Police, as well as with community members and advocates, the County Board recognized that the Secure Communities program would likely damage the community policing programs that have helped to keep Arlington County’s crime rate at an all-time low for the last few years.

Margaret Huang, Executive Director of Rights Working Group, noted “The victory in Arlington happened because community members organized and mobilized to work with elected officials and law enforcement leaders to stop a program that was imposed on Arlington. Communities should always have the loudest and last voice on how best to promote their own public safety and civil liberties.”

Arlington did the right thing today. The County Board recognized that the police will better protect the community by focusing on criminal behavior and activity rather than doing the federal government’s job of enforcing immigration laws.

Rights Working Group commends the Arlington County Board and the Clara County Board of Supervisors for promoting their communities’ safety and civil rights today. We urge other local jurisdictions to join the effort and to call for an end to the Secure Communities Initiative.


Formed in the aftermath of 9/11, the Rights Working Group is a coalition of 275 community-based grassroots groups and national organizations working to restore civil liberties and human rights protections for all people living in the U.S. 1120 Connecticut Ave, NW, Suite 1100, Washington, D.C. 20036, T: 202-591-3311 F: 202-591-3339

Deportation of illegal immigrants increases under Obama administration (Washington Post)

Deportation of illegal immigrants increases under Obama administration
By Peter Slevin
Washington Post Staff Writer
Monday, July 26, 2010

In a bid to remake the enforcement of federal immigration laws, the Obama administration is deporting record numbers of illegal immigrants and auditing hundreds of businesses that blithely hire undocumented workers.

The Immigration and Customs Enforcement agency expects to deport about 400,000 people this fiscal year, nearly 10 percent above the Bush administration’s 2008 total and 25 percent more than were deported in 2007. The pace of company audits has roughly quadrupled since President George W. Bush’s final year in office.

The effort is part of President Obama’s larger project “to make our national laws actually work,” as he put it in a speech this month at American University. Partly designed to entice Republicans to support comprehensive immigration reform, the mission is proving difficult and politically perilous.

Obama is drawing flak from those who contend the administration is weak on border security and from those who are disappointed he has not done more to fulfill his campaign promise to help the country’s estimated 11 million illegal residents. Trying to thread a needle, the president contends enforcement — including the deployment of fresh troops to the Mexico border — is a necessary but insufficient solution.

A June 30 memorandum from ICE director John Morton instructed officers to focus their “principal attention” on felons and repeat lawbreakers. The policy, influenced by a series of sometimes-heated White House meetings, also targets repeat border crossers and declares that parents caring for children or the infirm should be detained only in unusual cases.

“We’re trying to put our money where our mouth is,” Morton said in an interview, describing the goal as a “rational” immigration policy. “You’ve got to have aggressive enforcement against criminal offenders. You have to have a secure border. You have to have some integrity in the system.”

Morton said the 400,000 people expected to be deported this year — either physically removed or allowed to leave on their own power — represent the maximum the overburdened processing, detention and immigration court system can handle.

The Obama administration has been moving away from using work-site raids to target employers. Just 765 undocumented workers have been arrested at their jobs this fiscal year, compared with 5,100 in 2008, according to Department of Homeland Security figures. Instead, officers have increased employer audits, studying the employee documentation of 2,875 companies suspected of hiring illegal workers and assessing $6.4 million in fines.

On the ground, a program known as Secure Communities uses the fingerprints of people in custody for other reasons to identify deportable immigrants. Morton predicts it will “overhaul the face of immigration.” The administration has expanded the system to 437 jails and prisons from 14 and aims to extend it to “every law enforcement jurisdiction” by 2013.

The Secure Communities project has identified 240,000 illegal immigrants convicted of crimes, according to DHS figures. Of those, about 30,000 have been deported, including 8,600 convicted of what the agency calls “the most egregious offenses.”

Neither side satisfied
Criticism has been swift and sure.
While the administration focuses on some illegal immigrants with criminal records, others are allowed to remain free, creating a “sense of impunity. As long as they keep their heads down, they’re in the clear. That’s no way of enforcing immigration law,” said Mark Krikorian, a supporter of stricter policies with the Center for Immigration Studies.

“Even the ones who haven’t committed murder or rape or drug offenses, all of them have committed federal felonies,” Krikorian said. He favors employer audits, but also the roundups that Obama has largely abandoned.

Rep. Hal Rogers (R-Ky.) similarly believes the administration is showing “apathy toward robust immigration enforcement.” He said at a House hearing in March that the approach is nothing more than “selective amnesty.”

Others, meanwhile, complain that enforcers continue to target otherwise law-abiding illegal immigrants, splitting families and harming businesses.

“They’ve done a lot to start turning the ship in a more strategic and rational direction. It’s hard to say how successful they’ve been,” said Marshall Fitz, a specialist at the Center for American Progress. “Just because you change policies at the top or reprioritize your enforcement agenda doesn’t mean that on the ground things have changed very much.”

Obama heard that message in a closed-door White House meeting with immigration advocates in March and was taken aback, according to participants. They said he was surprised by evidence that thousands of ordinary illegal immigrants continue to be targeted and deported, often for minor violations, despite the official focus on criminals.

The discussion was “vigorous,” said a White House official who was present. The official spoke on the condition of anonymity because of the sensitivity of the issue. “What he said was: ‘We will look at what we are doing. And where we can make changes, we will make them.’ The intensity of the conversation, which was already underway, increased as a result of that meeting.”

The National Council of La Raza’s Clarissa Martinez, who attended the meeting, said: “The gap between the intent and the reality is very, very wide. The president had thought more progress had been made.”

Martinez said the federal government is “outsourcing” enforcement to local police, state troopers and deputy sheriffs, opening the way to abuses.

Sarahi Uribe agrees. A National Day Laborer Organizing Network staffer, she contends federal policy has created “a huge dragnet, and it’s structural. Basically, it’s anyone they can get their hands on.”

Focus on crime
Nearly 50 percent of the people who have been deported from the United States this budget year have a criminal conviction, from driving without a license and DUI to major felonies, ICE’s Morton said. That represents an increase of more than 36,000 over the same period in 2009, which showed a rise of 22,000 over 2008. “Occasionally, you will hear criticism that our criminal alien efforts are focused around people with cracked tailpipes and speeding tickets. That’s simply false,” Morton said.

A DHS spokesman said, however, that the agency has no breakdown of the crimes, which makes advocates suspicious.

“It has been a very frustrating experience working with ICE in terms of getting any data on the breakdown,” said American Civil Liberties Union legislative counsel Joanne Lin, who has participated in what she called “heated” White House meetings on enforcement. While the government pledges to focus on criminal immigrants, Lin said, the question is this: Which ones?

Morton’s June 30 memorandum set priorities for the capture, detention and removal of illegal immigrants. With the federal system facing a limit on how many people it can deport each year, he wrote, “principal attention” must go to people convicted of felonies or at least three misdemeanors punishable by jail time.

In descending order of importance, the memo cites people convicted of a misdemeanor, those caught near the border and those who have failed to obey deportation orders.

“Nothing in this memorandum should be construed to prohibit or discourage the apprehension, detention or removal of other aliens unlawfully in the United States,” Morton wrote, but such efforts should not “displace or disrupt” the pursuit of bigger targets.

In an underlined section, Morton listed illegal immigrants who should not be placed in detention except in “extraordinary circumstances.” They include people who are pregnant, nursing or seriously ill. Also included are primary caretakers of children or the infirm and people “whose detention is otherwise not in the public interest.”

“We’re very upfront about what our priorities are,” Morton said. “We make no bones about it.”