Blog Archive

Friday, June 3, 2011

First priority is deportations

By Ruben Navarrette Jr.
The San Francisco Chronicle
Wednesday, June 1, 2011

How in the world was the Obama administration able to round up and deport nearly 1 million people over the past 2 1/2 years?

Two words: Secure Communities. When first unveiled in 2008, the program was marketed to local governments and law enforcement agencies as an effective tool to allow U.S. immigration officials to identify and deport illegal immigrants convicted of serious crimes who were already in jail. And, in a point that has caused controversy, local and state officials were led to believe that participation in the program was voluntary.

It turns out, almost none of this is true. Many of the illegal immigrants who have been deported under the program were not hardened criminals or even criminals at all. (Being in the United States without proper documents is not a crime but a civil violation.) The catch of the day might include anyone from a drunk driver to a shoplifter to a battered wife hauled in along with her spouse after a domestic quarrel.

What a mess. Rep. Zoe Lofgren, D-San Jose, has requested an investigation into who is being deported under Secure Communities and whether federal officials misled local governments into thinking that participation was voluntary. The Office of Inspector General for the Department of Homeland Security recently announced plans to conduct an inquiry into the program. And the California Assembly recently passed a bill requiring the state to renegotiate its agreement with ICE so that only convicted felons would be handed over and participation by the counties would be optional; if passed by the state Senate, the bill would go to Gov. Jerry Brown for his signature.

I called John Morton, director of ICE.

"It is designed to go after criminal offenders," Morton said. "And that's exactly what it does. And it's why we think it's good policy and it's a good program."

Yet, I pointed out, not everyone who winds up in the clutches of Secure Communities committed a crime.

"The vast majority of people identified and removed through Secure Communities - over 70 percent - are people who are here unlawfully and have a criminal conviction," he said.

But those convictions could go back a decade or two. Are those the folks this program was designed to protect us from?

"We do identify and remove certain non-criminals," Morton acknowledged. As many as a third of the "non-criminals" removed under Secure Communities were previous deportees who came back, he insisted.

"What would you have the agency do when presented with someone who has been previously removed from the country and they've illegally re-entered again?" Morton asked.

That's easy. Deport that person. What troubles me is that this administration cares so much about appearances that it can't admit what it is doing and why. It should just be honest about the fact that its real goal is to rack up as many deportations as possible.

And if Secure Communities helps meet that objective, then the administration will defend the concept with its last breath. Not because the program is right or just, but because it's useful.

This article appeared on page A - 16 of the San Francisco Chronicle