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Sunday, September 5, 2010

Roundup: U.S. gov't claims success of controversial Secure Communities program

Newsy Stocks
September 3, 2010

LOS ANGELES, Sep. 2, 2010 (Xinhua News Agency) -- The U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) Thursday described its Secure Communities program a success with the removal of more than 37,900 criminal aliens from the country since 2008. But immigration advocates said otherwise.

The agency said since the program was activated in Los Angeles County a year ago, its biometric information sharing capability component has resulted in the identification and removal of more than 5,500 convicted criminal aliens from the United States.

The county is one of 28 jurisdictions in California that are currently benefiting from Secure Communities, and the information sharing capability has helped authorities to remove more than 12,400 criminal aliens arrested throughout the state, according to the ICE.

Nationwide, ICE is using the capability in 574 jurisdictions across 30 states, and it has helped ICE remove more than 37,900 criminal aliens from the country.

"Last year, ICE prevented thousands of convicted criminal aliens in Los Angeles County from being released back into the community," said David Venturella, assistant director for Secure Communities.

"Through the Secure Communities strategy, we're increasing community safety by enforcing federal immigration law in a smart, effective way that targets the greatest threats for removal first."

"The Secure Communities initiative reflects ICE's ongoing commitment to smart, tough enforcement strategies that help ensure the apprehension of dangerous criminal aliens," ICE Director John Morton told reporters.

"Expediting removals decreases the amount of time these individuals spend in ICE custody, saving taxpayers money and strengthening public safety," he said.

However, Immigration advocates complained that Secure Communities funnels people into the "mismanaged" ICE detention and deportation system, and serves as a "smokescreen" for racial profiling.

"This program creates an explosion of Arizona-like enforcement at a time when the results have proven disastrous," Pablo Alvarado, executive director of the National Day Laborer Organization Network, told reporters.

Center for Constitutional Rights attorney Sunita Patel also said the Secure Communities program "co-opts local police departments to do ICE's dirty work at significant cost to community relations and police objectives."

Patel said without full and truthful information about the program's actual mission and impact, police are operating in the dark.

"The bottom line is that thrusting police into the business of federal immigration enforcement isn't good for anyone," he added.

Immigration and civil rights groups also complained that many non-criminal aliens have been deported. Travis County, Texas, so far has deported a higher percentage of non-criminals than any county in the federal government's new Secure Communities project. The controversial program, launched in 2008, automatically checks fingerprint records of jail and prison inmates to see whether they're in the United States illegally.

According to an analysis of federal data collected by a coalition of immigration advocacy groups, in Travis County, 82 percent of 724 total deportations under the Secure Communities program were of non-criminals. The Travis County data covers June 2009, when the county joined the program, through April 2010.

"This indicates police officers are picking up people on pretext, the criminal charges are getting dropped or dismissed, and they're getting shuttled into deportation," Bridget Kessler, clinical teaching fellow at the Immigration Justice Clinic of the Benjamin N. Cardozo School of Law, told reporters.

The clinic, along with the National Day Laborer Organization Network and the Center for Constitutional rights, filed lawsuit to obtain the data from the federal government.

Nationwide, an average of 26 percent of all Secure Communities deportations were of non-criminals, the groups' analysis of 2008-10 data shows. County by county data released by the federal government stretched from November 2008 through April 2010.

Meanwhile, some local law enforcement agencies are considering opt out of the federal Secure Communities program.

San Francisco Sheriff Michael Hennessey said at a press conference Wednesday he had been trying to remove his county from the program by petitioning state attorney general Jerry Brown, but to no avail.

"As you know, I sought to opt out, in writing, to both the California Department of Justice and Secure Communities," Hennessey said he wrote to Brown.

Since 2008, The U.S. Department of Homeland Security has expanded the Secure Communities initiative to 30 states. The program is expected to be rolled out nationwide by 2013.