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Beverly Hills, California, United States
Eli Kantor is a labor, employment and immigration law attorney. He has been practicing labor, employment and immigration law for more than 36 years. He has been featured in articles about labor, employment and immigration law in the L.A. Times, Business Week.com and Daily Variety. He is a regular columnist for the Daily Journal. Telephone (310)274-8216; eli@elikantorlaw.com. For more information, visit beverlyhillsimmigrationlaw.com and and beverlyhillsemploymentlaw.com


Friday, December 02, 2011

Lawmakers Differ on Perception, Value of Secure Communities Program

CQ reported that: A House hearing Wednesday illustrated a rift between lawmakers on the merits of a federal initiative that searches local arrest records to find illegal immigrants.

Supporters of the Homeland Security Department’s Secure Communities program tout it as a valuable tool for removing dangerous criminal immigrants from U.S. communities, but critics say that it is beset with problems.

This debate is about “not only what we’re doing, but the perception of what we’re doing,” said Zoe Lofgren of California, the top Democrat on the Judiciary Subcommittee on Immigration Policy and Enforcement, which held Wednesday’s meeting.

Lofgren and others argue that Secure Communities erodes public trust in local law enforcement officers. Under the program, the fingerprints of individuals arrested by state and local police are cross-checked with federal «immigration» records to determine their immigration status.

Critics contend that because an arrest by local authorities sets the process in motion, a perception has developed among members of the community that local jurisdictions implement the program.

They say the problem is particularly prevalent among victims of domestic violence, who are afraid to initiate contact with police.

In a letter Wednesday to Lofgren and subcommittee Chairman Elton Gallegly, R-Calif., a coalition of anti-violence advocacy groups said victims who report abuse have been arrested themselves.

“Dual arrests unfortunately occur frequently in domestic-violence cases involving immigrants, particularly if the victim has limited English proficiency,” they wrote. In those cases, the letter says, even if only the abuser is ultimately prosecuted, that initial arrest of the victim can prompt deportation proceedings under Secure Communities.

Critics also argued Wednesday that the program has strayed from its mission of targeting the most dangerous criminals. They said that illegal immigrants who have been arrested for minor offenses, as well as some U.S. citizens, have been detained under the program.

The program has also drawn fire by those who allege it encourages racial profiling. Citing data released by the law school of the University of California at Berkeley, Lofgren noted the prevalence of Latinos among those affected by Secure Communities. According to the findings, Latinos make up 93 percent of individuals arrested through the program, even thought they make up just 77 percent of undocumented immigrants in the United States. “That is a staggering statistic,” Lofgren said.

Immigration and Customs Enforcement official Gary Mead told the House panel that the Homeland Security Department is mindful of the concerns and is taking steps to address them.

Mead pointed to such efforts as a new policy to protect victims and witnesses of crime, a process for reporting complaints about the program, and the possibility of implementing a model for low-level offenders that would kick in only if a conviction occurs.

Supporters of Secure Communities

Backers of the program said Wednesday that changes would undermine Secure Communities, and they took particular aim at the Obama administration’s broader plan to exercise greater discretion on which immigration cases to prosecute.

The administration is “imperiling the Secure Communities program as part of this effort,” Gallegly said.

He and Judiciary Chairman Lamar Smith, R-Texas, warned that such discretion would result in the release of illegal criminal immigrants brought in under Secure Communities, allowing them to avoid deportation and potentially commit additional crimes.

The immigration subcommittee issued a subpoena to DHS on Nov. 4 for a list of illegal and criminal immigrants flagged by ICE who were not detained or placed in removal proceedings. The request includes information on immigrants about whom ICE was notified through Secure Communities.

Officials provided identification numbers that the department assigned to almost 221,000 such cases to the Judiciary Committee this month in response to the subpoena, but Smith said Nov. 18 that he was not satisfied with the department’s cooperation.

Mead told Smith at the hearing Wednesday that he was confident that DHS will supply the requested information.

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