Friday, December 10, 2010

Rights Groups Take ICE to Court

By William Fisher

Prominent human rights groups went to federal court Thursday, seeking clarification of whether state and local law enforcement authorities can “opt-in” or “opt-out” of the Secure Communities program, a controversial federal-local partnership that provides prison inmates’ fingerprints and other information to a Federal database of persons wanted for immigration violations.

The action brought by the Center for Constitutional Rights (CCR) and the Kathryn O. Greenberg Immigration Justice Clinic (IJC) of Cardozo law school, seeks an emergency injunction and documents regarding the controversial Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) Secure Communities program.

The documents sought are part of a Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) lawsuit filed against the Immigration Customs Enforcement (ICE) agency on behalf of the National Day Laborer Organization Network (NDLON). ICE is a unit of the Department of Homeland Security.

“As advocates across the country are pushing on the state and local levels to find a way to opt-out of Secure Communities, we are going to court to obtain information that the public and advocates need to determine how and if it's possible to opt-out,” said CCR staff attorney Sunita Patel. “Only the government has the information everyone needs.”

The emergency injunction specifically requests documents related to the voluntary nature of the program, which has been unclear and the subject of mixed messages thus far. Advocates and community leaders across the country have called this program “dangerous” and say it strains local law enforcement and resources while damaging already the already tenuous relationship between immigrant communities and the police.

“To keep our families together, we need to keep police and ICE separate. The Orwellian-named Secure Communities program does the opposite of making us safer,” said Sarahí Uribe of NDLON. “We see innocent people swept up in a massive dragnet sending a chilling effect through migrant communities.”

Advocates argue that ICE’S unwillingness to provide clear information about the program’s opt-out process at a time when municipalities such as San Francisco and Santa Clara in California and Arlington, Virginia voted to opt-out and numerous others localities are deliberating their participation, requires court-ordered immediate access to key documents.

The groups say immigration authorities in charge of the program, which culls fingerprint data from local jails, have been “inconsistent and dishonest in representing the relationship between local governments and the federal program.” In an email to New York Governor David Patterson, the agency said “We get it. No one will be forced.’ In a press conference two months later, ICE said, “We do not see this as an opt-in opt-out program.”

At a recent speaking engagement, Assistant Director of Secure Communities David Venturella was confronted by Maria Bolaños, a domestic violence survivor whose call for help resulted in deportation proceedings under the program.

His accusation of inaccurate reporting moved the Washington Post to publish “ICE Reversals Sowing Mistrust.” Citing cases like Bolaños as a reason for concern, the article said, “cities worried about the program’s effects on community-policing efforts are interested in opting-out of the overly broad dragnet.” The plaintiffs maintain that “the on-going dishonesty and desire to opt-out makes gives today's injunction urgency.”

With thirteen states yet to join the program, New York and numerous other activated jurisdictions still trying to opt out, and its current spokespeople unwilling to set the record straight, advocates are asking a judge to counteract the misinformation by opening the files related to the “opt-out” policies immediately.

The Center for Constitutional Rights is dedicated to advancing and protecting the rights guaranteed by the United States Constitution and the Universal Declaration of Human Rights.

The mission of the National Day Laborer Organization Network is to improve the lives of day laborers in the U.S. by unifying and strengthening its member organizations to be more strategic and effective in their efforts to develop leadership, mobilize day laborers in order to protect and expand their civil, labor and human rights.

The Kathryn O. Greenberg Immigration Justice Clinic of the Benjamin N. Cardozo School of Law was founded in 2008 to provide quality pro bono legal representation to indigent immigrants facing deportation.

Secure Communities is one of several ICE programs that rely on continuing cooperation from local law enforcement authorities. In the 287(g) program, for example, local police and sheriffs have been recruited to help federal immigration authorities by arresting and detaining persons suspected of having committed immigration crimes.

While many local law enforcement authorities have become part of the program, many others have refused to participate. They say enforcing Federal immigration law is the job of the federal government; that local peace officers don’t have the training and experience to enforce complex immigration law; and that existing police manpower is needed for community policing.

In addition, it has been revealed that many of those who have been deported by the Barack Obama Administration have committed only minor infractions such as broken taillights and driving without a license. ICE’s programs are supposedly geared toward deporting dangerous criminal aliens.