Blog Archive

Saturday, September 3, 2011

Change to deportation policy draws mixed reaction in Greeley

By Nate A. Miller
The Tribune
Thursday, September 1, 2011

The recent Obama administration decision to allow many illegal immigrants who faced potential deportation despite having no criminal record to stay in the country will make an important difference for Weld County immigrants, University of Northern Colorado Hispanic studies professor Priscilla Falcon said.

“I think we went through a period there, maybe from 2006-2009, where there were many families that were deported,” she said. “If there is less of the workplace raids, then we won’t see so many families that are having one of the parents deported.”

Department of Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano announced Aug. 18 that the department will focus on deporting illegal immigrants who have criminal records or pose a threat to national security or public safety.

Weld law enforcement officials, however, say the decision will not change much on the ground.

“It is a change in stated policy, or in formal policy, but it’s not a change in practical reality,” said Weld District Attorney and former U.S. Senate candidate Ken Buck. “The feds have always focused almost exclusively on the jails and catching people who have a criminal record. They’ve done some workplace enforcement.”

ICE officials say it will allow for more efficient use of resources to prevent illicit trade from crossing the border and to focus on security, according to a fact sheet from Immigration and Customs Enforcement about the policy shift.

Buck, who made a name for himself with aggressive prosecution of immigration-related identity theft before running for the Senate in 2010, said even the 2006 ICE raid at the then-Swift meatpacking plant focused on identity theft and did not cast a wide net to simply catch anyone in the country illegally.

“There has always been this acceptance that the feds didn’t have the resources to deal with overall immigration issues,” he said. “Rather, they were going to focus their resources on those who were a threat to this country.”

In 2007, Brazil-based JBS purchased the meatpacking plant from Swift.

The decision to focus deportation efforts on high-priority cases comes amid protests primarily from immigrant communities that the authorities have been too focused on deporting people whose only offense is being in the country without the proper documents — usually a civil offense — or who have been arrested for traffic violations or other misdemeanors.

There also have been widespread complaints about ICE’s Secure Communities program, which uses fingerprints collected in state and local jails to identify illegal immigrants in a federal immigration database.

Some states have balked at the program, arguing it requires them to enforce federal laws. There have also been complaints that immigrants arrested for simple misdemeanors can end up in deportation proceedings.

Weld County Sheriff John Cooke said he supports the Secure Communities initiative, which would mean when local authorities arrest people their fingerprints are sent to the FBI and ICE, regardless of where they were born.

“I’m wholeheartedly behind the Secure Communities that ICE wants to do,” he said. “Right now what we do is we ask someone when they get booked in where they were born. If they’re foreign born, it doesn’t matter where, it could be Canada, and if they tell us that they are foreign born, then we send that information to ICE. Then ICE takes it from there, basically. Under the Secure Communities, everybody gets sent. If you were arrested, your fingerprints would get sent to the FBI and to ICE, which is a lot better because it’s not self-reporting.”

He has mixed feelings, however, about the decision to refocus deportation efforts.

“ICE has limited resources. They only have so many people. They only have so many agents. They only have so much they can do with so many illegal immigrants that are here, so you’ve got to prioritize. That’s on the good part. They’re prioritizing. They’re focusing on criminals that need to be taken out of our society.”

On the other hand, Cooke said, the policy change doesn’t really address the problem of illegal immigration.

“If somebody comes here illegally, we’re a nation of laws,” he said.” If they come and break our laws, they should be suffering the consequences of breaking our laws and be deported back. I guess my frustration is that the federal government needs to do a better job on the front end, securing the border.”

Buck also said it’s important to enforce the laws on the books and the federal government should do a better job of addressing illegal immigration.

“My first part of the answer would be to find a way to get more people into this country legally,” Buck said. “In other words we need to improve our system and then also create a disincentive for the people who do it the wrong way.”

This would include giving employers a better way to check on whether someone is in the country legally, like an expanded version of the system known as E-verify, which allows employers to check the immigration status of prospective employees.

“Right now E-verify just checks to make sure that someone’s name matches a Social Security number and matches a date of birth,” he said. “What we need is to have the various state databases communicating with each other so that same identity isn’t being used in 10 different states.”

Falcon said for the immigrant community, the policy shift will make a key difference by reducing the trauma that’s associated with events like the raid at Swift.

“I just think, upon reflection, that Swift raid really devastated the economic base of the Latino community in Greeley. It made a major impact,” she said. “What Janet Napolitano announced, my reading of that is that they’re stepping back from the workplace raids. They’re going after more of the criminal element. If that is the case, then that’s a positive thing.”

The Associated Press contributed to this report