By KARI LYDERSEN
Published: March 26, 2011
Federal immigration officials, frustrated by the refusal of Chicago and Cook County to join a controversial program aimed at deporting immigrants with criminal records, pressed Mayor Richard M. Daley and Sheriff Tom Dart in an aggressive campaign to obtain participation from reluctant police authorities, according to internal documents.
Last spring, Immigration and Customs Enforcement officials tried to put the program, Secure Communities, in effect in Cook County without clear consent from the sheriff’s office. Their advisers proposed asking Rahm Emanuel, then White House chief of staff, to use his Chicago connections to intervene with unresponsive local leaders.
Chicago and Cook County were among several localities nationwide that refused to enroll in the program, which involves sharing fingerprints of anyone arrested with the Department of Homeland Security. Chicago and Cook County cited so-called sanctuary ordinances that prohibit local officials from involvement in immigration enforcement.
The Secure Communities program is in effect in more than 1,000 jurisdictions in 40 states, including Illinois. The federal agency plans to take it nationwide by 2013 and says it does not need local approval to do so.
E-mails and other documents — obtained through a Freedom of Information Act request by the National Day Laborer Organizing Network, an immigrant-rights group — show that immigration officials saw Chicago and Cook County among the cities to be test cases for whether localities are allowed to opt out of the program.
Secure Communities is meant to find and deport illegal immigrants found guilty of serious crimes. But the immigration agency’s statistics through February 2011 show that 32 percent of immigrants put into deportation proceedings in Illinois had no criminal convictions. Nationwide, 28 percent had no criminal record.
“The original concept was to get the really bad people out of the country, but are those the only ones you’re getting?” Mr. Dart said. “I could never get a straight answer. If it’s getting murderers and rapists, we’re all for that, but if you’re talking about people pulled over because their license plate isn’t up to date — my staff kept coming back to me saying we never got clarification.”
Brian Hale, a spokesman for Immigration and Customs Enforcement said in an e-mail that the agency did not need permission from state or local authorities to carry out Secure Communities. The idea to involve Mr. Emanuel, he said, came from contractors working for the agency and did not reach top ICE officials. He said that ICE was not aware of any contact with Mr. Emanuel.
The e-mails show disagreement within the agency over whether state and local governments can refuse to participate. Local sanctuary ordinances do not bar participation, some argued, because Secure Communities requires local officials only to share fingerprints but does not require them to question or detain suspected illegal immigrants.
The internal documents are dated between August 2009 and October 2010. A February 2010 draft report, prepared by the Secure Communities office in Washington, suggested appealing to Mr. Emanuel to intervene if local officials “continue to refuse to attend briefings or join in a dialogue about the benefits of S.C.”
A spokesman for Mr. Emanuel would not comment on whether ICE contacted him while he was at the White House. As mayor, the spokesman said, Mr. Emanuel will adhere to Chicago’s sanctuary ordinance.
Immigration and Customs Enforcement signs agreements with state police agencies, then seeks to enroll that state’s county and city law enforcement agencies in Secure Communities.
The Illinois State Police joined the program in November 2009, and since then the program has been put in effect in 26 of 102 Illinois counties, including all the counties bordering Cook. The internal documents describe this strategy as forming a “ring” around a “resistant site.”
On April 28, 2010, Immigration and Customs Enforcement sent an e-mail to Mr. Dart’s office saying the Secure Communities program would be activated May 5.
Mr. Dart’s chief of staff at the time, Bill Cunningham, acknowledged the request, by e-mail. He mentioned the sanctuary ordinance but cited federal law that prevented local governments from interfering with immigration enforcement. “The system can be activated without our approval,” he wrote.
Even after John Morton, assistant secretary of Immigration and Customs Enforcement, traveled to Chicago on May 19 to meet with Mr. Dart and Mr. Daley in an apparent effort to secure their cooperation, Chicago and Cook County did not adopt the program.
Then, on May 27, the Illinois State Police told the federal agency to back off. The state police’s legal department did not view Mr. Cunningham’s comment as consent, according to an e-mail.
“This is not good, not good at all!” the Secure Communities regional coordinator, an agency contractor named Dan Cadman, wrote in an internal e-mail. “Time perhaps for a full court press?” Mr. Hale said Mr. Cadman’s contract was terminated on Friday.
Immigration and F.B.I. officials met Aug. 27 and decided the F.B.I. would “reach out to personal contacts” in Chicago and Cook County about Secure Communities. But in November, the office of Gov. Pat Quinn ordered the state police not to allow any more counties to enroll, pending a review of how the program was being carried out. Mr. Hale said the agency was still planning to put the program in effect here.
Immigration-rights advocates say the agency overstepped its bounds. “They were basically conspiring to make it appear Cook County had no choice,” said Joshua Hoyt, executive director of the Illinois Coalition for Immigrant and Refugee Rights, which obtained the documents from the National Day Laborer Organizing Network.
Alderman Roberto Maldonado (26th Ward), who spearheaded the county sanctuary ordinance during his time as county commissioner, said Secure Communities “would violate the spirit” of the sanctuary ordinance.
“They just come in here like Rambos and do what they want,” he said.