Saturday, May 14, 2011

Hispanic Caucus Blasts “Secure Communities”

By William Fisher

The Congressional Hispanic Caucus is charging that the President's Secure Communities (S-Comm) policy “is not living up to its name,” and is demanding that the Obama Administration declare a moratorium on the program’s implementation.

The Caucus said it has sent a letter to President Obama “following a chorus of growing criticism of program.” The letter states, “Evidence reveals not only a striking dissonance between the program’s stated purpose of removing dangerous criminals and it’s actual effect; it also suggests that S-Comm may endanger the public, particularly among communities of color….”

The Caucus said, “Secure Communities (SCOMM) was initially described as a program to identify and deport immigrants found guilty of serious crimes. The program enlists local police into federal immigration enforcement by screening all fingerprints of those booked in local jails through the federal ICE database.”

They added, “Data revealed through a federal lawsuit filed by civil rights groups shows the program fails to live up to its stated intention, as the program deports large groups of people without any convictions or convicted of only minor offenses.”

According to the CHC, “Lawmakers in Congress and in states throughout the country say ICE officials lied about program details and requirements at its early stages.’

Other groups are expressing similar sentiments. For example, the Heartland Alliance’s National Immigrant Justice Center (NIJC) applauded Illinois Governor Quinn for “his decision to terminate our state’s participation in the Department of Homeland Security’s (DHS) Secure Communities program.”

Rep. Zoe Lofgren, Democrat of California, has described the implementation of the program as "dissembling and deceiving" and has called for an Inspector General (IG) investigation with the support of Senator Bob Menendez, Democrat of New Jersey.

The call is reminiscent of another IG report on SCOMM's predecessor, the 287(g) program, made famous by Sheriff Joe Arpaio in Arizona, which showed “a program riddled with flaws that was too broken to be fixed.”

On May 4th, the Governor of Illinois terminated his state's participation in the program. In California, Assemblyman Ammiano introduced the TRUST Act to reform and regulate the program. In Massachusetts and Rhode Island, large-scale rallies have taken place in opposition to the program.

Thus the Caucus states, “We appreciate and steadfastly support your efforts to reform broken immigration laws and to strengthen national security and public safety. Unfortunately, neither of these goals are served or advanced by the S-Comm policy in its current form”

The group added, “We are not convinced the program is achieving its stated goals, and we see nothing in the management and oversight of S-Comm that convinces us that these risks have been adequately addressed in the latest incarnation of local police immigration enforcement….For these reasons, we request an immediate freeze of S-Comm pending a thorough review.”

Pablo Alvarado, Director of the National Day Laborer Organizing Network whose organization along with the Center for Constitutional Rights and Benjamin Cardozo School of Law, are litigants in a Freedom of Information (FOIA) lawsuit against the Immigration and Customs Enforcement agency (ICE). These groups said in a statement:

“SCOMM has become a symbol of the President's broken promises on immigration reform. We are all painfully aware of the poisonous political climate on immigration reform, but there is simply no excuse for the President to deploy a policy that criminalizes immigrants, erodes our civil rights, and destroys community safety. The policy is unacceptable and it needs to be stopped immediately.”

They added, “There is a domestic human rights crisis in Arizona and elsewhere, on display to the world, because of the foolish entanglement of police in immigration enforcement. To allow -- and advance -- a policy that repeats Arizona’s mistakes across the whole country would be a betrayal.”

The President must change direction immediately, through actions and not mere words. His first steps on the road to reform can- and must- be heeding the Hispanic Caucus’ call and putting S-Comm on ice.

"Obama should re-think the Secure Communities program," said Sunita Patel, Center for Constitutional Rights staff attorney. "Rather than force states and local jurisdictions to become entangled with immigration enforcement, he should pause and prevent the program’s operation. Governor Patrick Quinn and the Congressional Hispanic Caucus have it right. A moratorium is needed now.”

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