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Immigrant rights groups demand end to Secure Communities

Immigrant rights organizations will join today in a national day of action in six U.S. cities to deliver a report that documents what they see as Secure Communities abuses, demanding that the Obama administration terminate the immigration enforcement program immediately.

Immigration and Customs Enforcement’s Secure Communities program allows local law enforcement agencies to check the fingerprints of people they detain and match them up with federal immigration and criminal databases, with the stated goal of deporting criminals.

“Restoring Community,” a report on “ICE’S Failed ‘Secure Communities’ Program,” issued by 14 organizations, states:

S-Comm multiplies the force of unjust immigration laws and enforcement policies that tear families apart, that penalize parents for working to make a better life for their children, and that further entrench inequality. It multiplies laws and enforcement policies that, in effect, make pursuit of the American Dream a criminal proposition for current generations of immigrants. That such a program should be the showcase policy of an Administration that presents itself as a champion of immigration reform is a betrayal. Multiplying the force of misguided policy and unjust laws is not reform—it is a step backwards.

In the report, police officials explain that Secure Communities diminishes trust between local communities and law enforcement agencies and compromises public safety.

Former Los Angeles Police Chief William J. Bratton says, “Criminals are the biggest benefactors when immigrants fear the police. We can’t solve crimes that aren’t reported because the victims are afraid to come forward to the police.”

Ron Hampton, president of Black Law Enforcement in America, says in the report his opposition to Secure Communities “is rooted in common sense: counties and states across the country rely on the relationships of the communities they serve to combat and solve crime. It is foolish to sever this tie in order to enforce civil immigration laws.”

Roberto Lovato, writer and co-founder of Presente.org, tells The Independent that Latinos have organized many events and actions to tell Obama to terminate Secure Communities, but “he is paying attention to his campaign managers like David Axelrod. And he has done it to the tune of 1 million deportations. We are sending a message to the Obama campaign: We know what you are doing. Stop, or risk losing the election.”

According to Lovato, Presente.org has gathered more than 23,000 signatures to ask Obama to end Secure Communities.

“We are not telling people to not vote for Obama,” Lovato says. “He is doing that all by himself. He is doing what the Republicans want him to do on immigration. If he does the right thing and stops Secure Communities now he will get glowing support from one of the most important and growing constituencies.”

The report adds that “S-Comm, like SB 1070 and its copycats, encourages a criminalization of immigrants that is inherently incompatible with the goal of integration and reform.”

The federal government’s decision 10 days ago to terminate agreements with local authorities to implement Secure Communities only heightened the opposition of immigrant advocate organizations.

Jonathan Fried — executive director of We Count!, a Miami-Dade immigrant and worker advocacy organization — tells The Independent the decision to terminate local agreements is antidemocratic. “We are calling on our allies in the Democratic Party to hold President Obama accountable for his immigration policies,” Fried says.

Fried says that the administration’s willingness to hold a hard line on immigration is a calculated electoral strategy because it thinks the campaign can risk losing Latino voters.

Today’s report recommends:

  • The Secure Communities program should be ended.
  • The current Department of Homeland Security Office of Inspector General audit of Secure Communities should be

completed and the Department of Justice Office of Inspector General should begin an investigation into the FBI’s role in Secure Communities.

  • Criticism of Secure Communities should be applied to inform changes to other ICE ACCESS programs, and the entanglement of local criminal law enforcement and federal civil immigration functions should be stopped and reversed.
  • States and localities should not be compelled to participate in immigration enforcement programs, including the forwarding of fingerprints and other biometric information to the Department of Homeland Security.

According to ICE, Secure Communities was developed to remove “criminal aliens who pose a threat to public safety, and repeat immigration violators.”

The report counters that “ICE’s own numbers reveal that most of the individuals arrested and deported under S-Comm in fact have minor or no criminal convictions. Through May 2011, one-third of all immigrants whom ICE has arrested under the program have never been convicted of anything. More than half (59%) have either no convictions or are guilty of only misdemeanors, including traffic offenses.”

It adds that “Miami-Dade County in Florida shows noncriminal deportation rates of over 50%–a significant departure from the national average of 29%.”

Presente.org’s Felipe Matos — who walked from Miami to Washington, D.C., in early 2010 to support the DREAM Act — tells the Independent that “most people deported under Secure Communities are non-criminals” and that “a lot of our families are getting separated.” “This is not only happening in Miami but across the nation,” Matos says.

Matos adds that in 2012 Obama needs the Latino vote, but asks, “Will he continue taking actions that alienate the Latino community? Or is he going to do something positive for us? That is why we are asking him to terminate Secure Communities.”

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