Blog Archive

Thursday, May 26, 2011

Sheriff's office won't resist deportation program

Some law officers nationwide say illegal immigrant effort is flawed.

Thursday, May 26, 2011

DENVER — A tide of backlash nationally against the federal Secure Communities program has not deterred the Pueblo County Sheriff’s Office from plans to participate in it.

Two sheriffs from other states expressed doubts Wednesday about participating in the program because they worry it is snaring low-level offenders and deporting people whose criminal cases have not been adjudicated.

They join the governor of Illinois and the Congressional Hispanic Caucus in questioning whether Secure Communities is accomplishing its objectives or doing more harm than good.

The Pueblo sheriff’s office sees little difference between Secure Communities and its current practice of providing inmates’ fingerprints to the Colorado Bureau of Investigation, which in turn forwards them to federal agencies, according to Capt. Dave Lucero.

He said the fingerprint comparison does little to affect the jail. Of the 606 inmates held there on Wednesday, just two were being detained on immigration holds.

Secure Communities creates a computer pipeline for jails to send fingerprints of people booked there to the U.S. Department of Homeland Security’s Immigration and Customs Enforcement and the FBI.

The program’s aim is to target for deportation those who have committed the most serious crimes, such as rape, murder and felony drug offenses. But the Los Angeles Times reported last week that only about 35 percent of those who have been deported to date fit that description.

One-fourth of the deportations associated with Secure Communities so far have involved people awaiting resolution of their cases who have not been convicted, according to Bridget Kessler of Benjamin Cardoza School of Law.

“It’s a flawed program,” said Sheriff Patrick Perez of Kane County, Ill., where Gov. Patrick Quinn recently terminated the state’s participation in Secure Communities over concerns that it was not catching its intended targets and was eroding trust between law enforcement and the immigrant community.

Perez praised Quinn’s decision.

“People have been deported for minor traffic violations or no criminal activity at all,” Perez said.

Earlier this month the Congressional Hispanic Caucus submitted a letter to President Barack Obama urging an immediate freeze of Secure Communities in order to review whether it is truly prioritizing serious offenders for deportation, or simply casting a dragnet.

ICE spokesman Carl Rusnok emphasized the scope of Secure Communities is limited to those in the country illegally who have been arrested for violating state laws.

“Secure Communities has been deployed quickly to support the administration’s efforts to prioritize criminal aliens for removal, and DHS is committed to working with all partners to address questions about the program,” Rusnok said.

He said ICE is reviewing statistics to assure Secure Communities is not a vehicle for misconduct, and if any is found corrective actions will be taken.

Sheriff Ed Prieto of Yolo County, Calif., acknowledged that many people, including some in his own command staff, have no objections to deporting anyone who is discovered to be in the country illegally. But he is instructing his department to notify ICE only of prisoners in the country illegally who are known to have committed serious offenses.

In a conference call with reporters, Perez and Prieto also voiced confusion over whether participation in the program is mandatory and what the consequences might be if they reject joining.

They said early correspondence with the DHS and ICE suggested participation was voluntary, but since then those agencies have made it abundantly clear that every jurisdiction in the nation is expected to be on board by 2013. Rusnok said the only aspect of the program that jails can block is a return report from ICE about whether anyone in a jail is subject to deportation. But refusing to accept those results has no bearing on whether ICE — which has the ultimate authority to do so — will deport inmates from a jail.

Gov. Bill Ritter approved Colorado’s participation in the program shortly before he left office. Denver, Arapahoe and El Paso counties currently are Colorado’s pilot jurisdictions for Secure Communities. Pueblo County also will join to comply with the mandate.

“It’s not up to us to dictate their policies,” said Lucero of the Pueblo sheriff's office. “They make the rules. We just follow them.”