As President Obama orders review of all open deportation cases, immigration reform advocates continue demands to terminate the Secure Communities program
CROWD: Hey, Obama don’t support my mama!
DAVID DOUGHERTY, TRNN: More than 1 million immigrants have been deported under the Obama administration, with a significant number of cases resulting from the Secure Communities program. A public hearing on the Immigration and Customs Enforcement (or ICE) program was held outside of Washington, DC, in Arlington, Virginia, on Wednesday, August 24. Demonstrators gathered outside the meeting and held a rally in defense of immigrants’ rights before entering and participating in the forum. The event was the fourth at several recent hearings held across the country that were organized by the Department of Homeland Security through its recently established Secure Communities task force. The task force is an advisory council comprised of 20 representatives and experts from law enforcement, academic, organized labor, civil rights, and legal backgrounds, with the goal of providing policy recommendations on ways in which Secure Communities could implement policy changes to address and improve upon a number of issues facing the program.
BEN JOHNSON, SCOMM TASK FORCE: I think there’s a lot of people that are really upset about the program. I think there’s a lot of people that have felt the impact of these policies. I think there’s been a lot of separated families. I think there’s a lot of concern about civil liberties and civil rights violations. And we certainly heard that anger and that concern tonight. I think there was a lot of people that gave voice to, you know, what’s happening on the ground with this particular program.
LUPE VALDEZ, SCOMM TASK FORCE: When we started looking at this, we were about to come up with a policy, and we basically decided it’s unfair to do that without hearing what the community has to say. And so we went through a fast process, which is very fast. In two weeks we’ve been to four different cities to try and hear what people have to say about it.
DOUGHERTY: And so what is the next step, then, for the task force after now getting input and hearing from the community members their concerns?
VALDEZ: We’re going to gather once again and we’re going to try and bring everything together and–.
DOUGHERTY: Will there be policy changes as a result?
VALDEZ: I don’t know. I don’t know. That will be up to the task force. I cannot make that decision solely.
DOUGHERTY: There were some tensions present throughout the hearing as people presented a variety of views both in support of and against the Secure Communities program. At one point, two undocumented women facing deportation orders that could separate them from their children confronted crowd member Marc Rapp, the ICE official who oversees all Secure Communities operations. Later on, around half of the crowd walked out in the middle of the meeting while chanting slogans denouncing the program, after some audience members accused the task force of being little more than a public relations scam organized by ICE. Sarahi Uribe has worked to organize against the Secure Communities program, which she and others refer to as “insecure communities” because of some of the harmful effects associated with the program in communities across the country.
SARAHI URIBE, NATIONAL DAY LABORER ORGANIZING NETWORK: It’s clear that no matter where you stand on the immigration debate, people care about public safety. And this program is making us less safe. When crimes go unreported, when people don’t cooperate with police, all of our safety suffers. And that was one of the messages that resonated with the crowd today. Last year, Arlington, Washington, DC, set a national wave of opposition by being one of the first counties in the whole country to ask to opt out of this insecure communities program. The federal government has since said that they want to force this program on everyone, no matter what the counties are saying, no matter even what three governors are saying. And today we’re here to say, you know what? We don’t need to give our input. We very clearly said we want an end to the insecure communities program.
DOUGHERTY: Arlington, Virginia, is just one of a number of local jurisdictions across the country to have publicly denounced and attempted to opt out of the Secure Communities program, which requires local law enforcement to cross-check the fingerprint data of people investigated in crimes with federal immigration databases to see if they’re eligible for deportation. ICE has sought to implement the program in every jurisdiction in the country by 2013, after reversing an earlier decision allowing localities to withdraw from the program. While ice says the program was designed to target the most dangerous and violent criminals, it has come under increasing scrutiny for the large numbers of people deported for minor offenses or caught up in the immigration system after later being found innocent or falsely accused of the original charge. And there have even been cases of witnesses to crimes and informants being deported. Some local officials, like Arlington County board member Walter Tejada, share concerns over the manner in which Secure Communities was federally imposed on local jurisdictions, which in some cases has put a strain on local law enforcement relations with immigrant communities.
WALTER TEJADA, ARLINGTON COUNTY BOARD MEMBER: It’s been over a year since the we found out that we were suddenly under this Secure Communities program. We weren’t sure what it was. We set out to–there was no public process before that notice was sent. And so then we set out to create our own public process and create a community awareness of this program–and, by and large, overwhelming opposition to–by our citizens to this initiative. We then researched documents, and there were a number of them, including one signed by Homeland Secretary Janet Napolitano which said that jurisdictions can choose to withdraw from deployment of the program. On September last year, we took them at their word, passed a resolution saying we wanted to take them up on withdrawing from the program. And then, suddenly, there was a change in the philosophy and said there was no opt-out. Then there were conflicting statements that maybe there was. They had some internal difficulties. Meanwhile, this has created a very negative environment. It’s unfair toward police officers who are dealing directly with our community. We have a very diverse community here in the audience today [incompr.] diversity that we have through the ’70s, ’80s, and ’90s from people from different backgrounds around the world, a large number of them from Latino background. Today we have the lowest crime index since 1960s. We want that trust with our police officers to continue. We want everyone to feel safe regardless of what their status in life is, so that we can give them a safe and welcoming community.
DOUGHERTY: This year, ICE has had to deal with a number of embarrassing public document releases highlighting widespread internal confusion and attempts at misleading the public over the agency’s operations. Amid growing protests around the country calling for comprehensive immigration reform, President Obama announced on Thursday, August 18, that there would be an immediate review of all pending deportation cases to prioritize the removal of violent offenders and criminals, while looking at ways in which certain qualified individuals could be allowed to stay and apply for work permits. While the move is one of the most major decisions Obama has made on immigration since taking office, those involved in the growing civil rights movement to protect immigrant and Hispanic families’ rights will continue to pressure Obama to fully utilize his executive powers to fix what they say is a broken system that is tearing families and communities apart. This is David Dougherty with The Real News Network.