After Arizona Immigration Law, activists see local problem

By Kelly Virella, City Limits Magazine

A week after Arizona enacted a law permitting local police to stop people they suspect are undocumented immigrants, advocates across the country are drawing attention to a related issue: the federal government’s ongoing efforts to nudge other police and sheriff’s departments policies closer to Arizona’s.

By 2013, the U.S. Immigrations and Customs Enforcement (ICE) expects to enroll every jail in America in a network that allows the agency to find and detain undocumented immigrants who have been arrested.

Nearly 150 jails (including New York City’s jail system) are already in enrolled in the program. And now, advocates allege in a lawsuit filed today, federal authorities are refusing to release information needed to protect arrestees’ civil rights. Since 2008, the program—Secure Communities—has misidentified more than 5,800 arrested U.S. citizens as undocumented workers, the lawsuit says.

“In light of ICE’s intention to expand Secure Communities, [we] seek information necessary to facilitate meaningful public discourse and increase government Transparency,” the lawsuit says. “The public needs information about the mechanism for the program’s implementation in order to hold local officials accountable for their decisions.”

A spokesman for the Department of Homeland Security (DHS), one of the defendants, cited the merits of Secure Communities in an e-mail to City Limits. The program has identified more than 18,000 “aliens” charged with or convicted of serious crimes, such as murder, rape and kidnapping — 4,000 of whom have already been removed from the United States, said Matthew Chandler, the spokesman.

“ICE’s Secure Communities strategy is leading the agency’s efforts to improve and modernize the identification and removal of criminal aliens from the United States,” Chandler said. “Now that this FOIA request is the subject of a lawsuit, we will release release any information as appropriate through the litigation process.”

The three immigrant rights groups who filed the lawsuit allege that DHS and four other federal agencies or offices have failed to respond to their requests for information about the program. The information the groups asked for included the Secure Communities program’s policies, procedures or objectives, as well as demographic information about those detained and removed under the program.

In addition to DHS, the requests—written by the New York-based Center for Constitutional Rights and the Immigration Justice Clinic of the Benjamin Cardozo School of Law and the Los Angeles-based National Day Laborer Organizing Network—were sent to ICE, the Executive Office of Immigration Review, the Federal Bureau of Investigation and the Justice Department’s Office of Legal Counsel.

The federal Freedom of Information Act required the authorities to respond to the groups’ February 3 requests within 20 days of receiving them, the lawsuit says. Four of the five authorities replied in writing that the groups will have to pay for the information and/or that the information won’t be expedited, the lawsuit alleges. One authority—the Executive Office for Immigration Review—has ignored the request entirely.

Photo courtesy of Mizue Aizeki, courtesy of New Sanctuary Coalition/City Limits.  Members of Make the Road New York and the New York Civic Participation Project join with one hundred New Yorkers to stand against the criminalization of immigrants and to demand fair and just immigration reform.

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