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(In)Secure Communities Forum

Monday, November 7, 2011   (0 Comments)
Posted by: Jennifer Taylor
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"(In)Secure Communities: A Panel on the Effects of a Harmful Federal Deportation Program in D.C.,” was co-sponsored by the UDC David A. Clarke School of Law Chapters of the American Constitutional Society and the ACLU. Other student groups such as the Latino/a Law Students Association, Muslim Law Students Association, Asian Pacific American Law Students Association and the ACLU of the Nation’s Capital were also co-sponsors. Featured panelist Viviana Martinez, and Mary Cheh, Ron Hampton, Jaime Farrant, Gwendolyn Washington, and Jai Shankar discussed the negative ramifications of the federal program, "Secure Communities.”

On the U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) website, Secure Communities is described as a:

"simple and common sense way to carry out ICE’s priorities. It uses an already-existing federal information-sharing partnership between ICE and the FBI that helps identify criminal aliens without imposing new or additional requirements on state and local law enforcement. Under Secure Communities, the FBI automatically sends the fingerprints to ICE to check against its immigration databases. If these checks reveal that an individual is unlawfully present in the U.S. or otherwise removable due to a criminal conviction, ICE takes enforcement action. ICE prioritizes the removal of individuals who present the most significant threats to public safety as determined by the severity of their crime, their criminal history, and other factors—as well as those who have repeatedly violated immigration laws. Only federal Department of Homeland Security (DHS) officers make immigration enforcement decisions, and they do so only after an individual is arrested for a criminal violation of state law, separate and apart from any violations of immigration law."

The "Secure Communities” program has been criticized for transforming local police into virtual ICE agents. Due to the fear of deportation, many undocumented individuals who witness crime in their communities often refuse to come forward to report these crimes to local authorities. If an individual does come forward to report a crime and the officer taking her/his statement suspects s/he may be undocumented, the officer may take that individuals’ biometric information to confirm the suspicion. Once the fingerprints are taken, the information is shared with ICE, who will issue a 48-hour "ICE detainer” or hold on that individual--regardless of whether or not s/he has been involved in a crime. This has serious implications for public safety and civil rights. Not only are immigrants being forced to choose between reaching out to the police to report crimes in their communities and risk deportation, but also the "Secure Communities” program has led to racial profiling of undocumented and documented workers alike, resulting in 48-hour (or longer) "ICE detainers” that often split up families and leads to the deportation of the detainee. Recognizing the program’s dangers, D.C. was the first jurisdiction in the nation to reject the program when D.C. Mayor, Vincent Gray, issued an Executive Order on October 19, 2011 that prohibits public safety agencies from asking about a person’s immigrant status or contacting U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement. It does not apply if a person’s immigrant status pertains to a criminal investigation. Various cities, counties and states followed D.C.’s example, including Illinois, Massachusetts, and New York.

The "Secure Communities” program has also been deemed financially burdensome. It has diverted resources from local and state law enforcement agencies to cover the costs of "ICE detainers” and the effects on families and communities. Speaker Viviana Martinez, an attorney and Chief of Staff to Cook County Commissioner Jesus Garcia, discussed how Cook County, IL, was able to pass legislation that limited ICE’s ability to detain immigrants in local prisons. Cook County questioned the constitutionality of an "ICE detainer” if an individual was detained past the maximum 48-hour time limit. The Commissioner’s office also looked at the financial impact of ICE detainers on the county. It found that the program was costing $15.7 million dollars annually--not only in detaining individuals, but also in covering any additional costs that may arise. For example, if an individual suffered a medical emergency while detained, it is the responsibility of the county, not ICE, to provide care. Additionally, there was an increase in social services for families affected by the deportation of the detained individual. This translates into additional costs the county has to absorb into its already stressed budget. When asked what the community’s response was to the new legislation, Ms. Martinez explained that it was overwhelmingly positive. The Commissioner received over seven-hundred emails of congratulations and encouragement the day it passed.

Despite introducing the program as a voluntary measure, ICE responded to decisions to opt out by jurisdictions across the nation by announcing that the ”Secure Communities” program is intended to be a compulsory program with a national reach. Gwendolyn Washington, a lawyer with the Public Defender Service for the District of Columbia who specializes in immigrant defense issues, relayed anecdotes of how some detainees were deported from the U.S without so much as a trial. Others had been picked up by ICE agents at courthouses and questioned about their nationality and, in the process of this questioning, would give details of their case to ICE agents, sometimes implicating themselves in a criminal act. Under the "Secure Communities” program, this was cause enough for deportation. All of these acts were done without representation. Ms. Washington spoke about numerous clients who were not aware that they could refuse to speak to ICE agents and that they should speak to ICE agents only with representation present.

Executive Director of Ayuda, Jaime Farrant, told a chilling story of a young woman, whom he called "Mary,” who was enrolled in college on a student visa and who became romantically involved with an American citizen. The American later convinced her to drop out of college and promised that he would take care of her residency in the U.S. After he became violent, Mary called the police for assistance. When the police arrived, the abuser revealed that Mary was undocumented. She was arrested, taken to the police station, held on an ICE hold for 48 hours, released and told to return at a later day and time. Mary followed the police officer’s instructions and is now awaiting deportation. Mr. Farrant cautioned that there were many "Marys” and the number would increase if other cities and states did not become places of "sanctuary,” like the District of Columbia.

The event closed with Jai Shankar’s story. Jai is an Indian national, who, with his 10 year old son (a U.S. citizen), has been living in D.C. for the past 20 years. On July 29th, 2009, Jai called D.C. Metro police when his girlfriend’s camera was stolen. When they arrived, the police checked Jai’s identification. Despite having done nothing wrong, Jai was handcuffed, and the police checked his immigration status via the immigration and the ICE databases. Because he was out of status, Jai was taken to Hampton Roads prison, where he remained for over five months. Upon release, Jai was required to wear an ankle bracelet, which has been on for more than two years. He has been through deportation proceedings and endured acute hardship since ICE withheld his working papers. Now, Jai is on the brink of homelessness and has very limited means to assist his 10 year old son, SanJay.

On November 15, 2011, Councilmember Mendelson introduced Bill B19-0585, The Immigration Detainer Compliance Amendment Act of 2011 that builds upon and strengthens Mayor Gray’s Executive Order to protect immigrant families. The bill was unanimously co-sponsored by all 13 Councilmembers. In short, the bill makes it clear that the District will not use taxpayer dollars and our jail to facilitate the broad deportation of DC immigrants. Specifically, it requires the federal government to pick up detainees within 24 hours, pay for the detainee’s incarceration, and directs officers in seven D.C. agencies not to arrest people based only on their immigration status. The Act also stipulates the District will only hold ICE detainees who have been convicted of violent offenses. The bill will help keep families together and preserve public safety by ensuring that there's a bright line between our local police and criminal justice system and federal immigration enforcement.

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