Thursday, October 20, 2011

DC Rejects Anti-Latino "Secure Communities" Deportation Program // Plus, Restaurant Eve Top Chef Weighs In?

Yesterday, the District of Columbia announced that it was refusing to participate in the Department of Justice's controversial "Secure Communities" deportation program. According to the Washington Post, Mayor Vince Gray signed an Executive Order "that prohibits public safety agencies from asking about a person’s immigrant status or contacting U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement."  The announcement came on the same day that researchers released a new report calling into question the record number of deportations occurring under the Obama administration. According to PBS, Secure Communities really does break up families (lots of them) and racially profiles Latinos:
...a new report, released today, raises major questions about a program that has lead to many of those deportations. 
Secure Communities, a high-tech way of tracking immigration violators via fingerprint data, has led to the disproportionate arrest of Latinos, the wrongful detention of U.S. citizens and families being split apart when a spouse or parent is deported, according to a new study, [PDF] released today by the Warren Institute at the University of California, Berkeley Law School, in conjunction with the Benjamin N. Cardozo School of Law. 
The study is the first to analyze government data on the program. Among its findings:
  • 1.6 percent of those arrested were actually U.S. citizens 
  • 39 percent of people arrested through Secure Communities have at least one child or spouse who is a U.S. citizen 
  • 93 percent of those arrested are Latinos, even though they account for 77 percent of the entire undocumented population 
  • 83 percent of people arrested via Secure Communities are placed in Immigration and Customs Enforcement [ICE] detention; the average Department of Homeland Security immigration detention rate is 62 percent 
  • Only 24 percent of individuals arrested via Secure Communities had a lawyer present during an immigration hearing; in general, about 41 percent of all immigration court respondents do 

Earlier this summer, Maryland Juice wrote about the (terrible) Secure Communities program, and I want to reiterate my points here:
Democratic Governors in Illinois, New York, and Massachusetts have ensured their states refused to participate in "Secure Communities." Will Maryland officials follow?

These are the formative years where we will be welcoming the growing (and increasingly politically active) Latino community to the Democratic Party. Karl Rove has long been known to find the Republicans' new love for nativism to be politically foolish. Indeed, he's now back on the air trying to woo Latino voters with television ads trashing Obama en EspaƱol.
In April of this year, Montgomery County Executive Leggett indicated he would fight the administration in court to stop implementation of Secure Communities in Montgomery County -- but we haven't heard more on that since the promise was made. Meanwhile, John McCain, Karl Rove, George W. Bush and even Rick Perry have made clear they understand that anti-Latino scapegoating is politically foolish  (though I would argue that many Democrats also understand that it is simply wrong). This policy has been allowed to proceed, because irrational crime fears give "cover" to otherwise generic anti-immigrant sentiment.

WAMU noted in previous coverage, that activists had been laying the groundwork for D.C.'s withdrawal from the Secure Communities program. Earlier this month, they had the following coverage:
Advocates for the Latino community say D.C.’s participation in a federal deportation program could discourage victims of domestic abuse from contacting police. The program known as “Secure Communities” requires local police departments to share arrest information, including fingerprint data, with federal immigration authorities. The goal is to detect and deport criminals in the U.S. illegally. 
Critics of the program say it discourages undocumented immigrants from stepping forward and reporting crimes to police, in particular, incidents involving domestic violence. 
Hermil Silva has one such story. Through a translator, she told reporters about it on the steps of D.C. city hall Monday. For years, her husband beat her, she said. 
"In my case, I was so afraid of calling the police, but finally a neighbor did it for me," she said. "I didn’t because I was so afraid of the police turning me over to immigration.... 
A survey of Latina immigrants in the D.C. area found more than 80 percent of battered women didn’t report the abuse to authorities.
Here is a spread of coverage of D.C.'s rejection of the Secure Communities program:
  • Washington Post: "D.C. agencies cannot query immigrants on legal status"
  • Washington Times: "D.C. prohibits agencies from asking immigration status"
  • WAMU/NPR: "Immigration Status Off-Limits For D.C. Police"
  • WTOP: "Gray: D.C. not 'instruments of federal law' on immigration"

Is your fear of crime (whether rational or not) worth all of this? Are there other ways to handle these problems? Better yet, do those who call for such harsh measures feel similarly about all immigrants?

Ironically, last weekend I went to Annapolis to see Irish immigrant and Alexandria, VA top chef Cathal Armstrong (of Restaurant Eve) give a lecture and demonstration. Today he is a U.S. citizen married to an American woman, and he runs numerous successful restaurants employing dozens of area workers. He was also previously named one of Food & Wine magazine's top chefs in the nation.

During his lecture, he talked about his rise from dishwaser to world-class culinary superstar, noting that last week he served the President and First Lady. He also used to served Senator Kerry nearly daily during a stint at one of his restaurants. But amazingly, he casually mentioned that all of this started when he came to the United States as an illegal undocumented resident. He also proceeded to talk about treating everyone with respect in his operation, from the dishwashers on up.

I'm really glad to see folks speak up like this, because something is different about Cathal Armstrong compared to the immigrants everyone wants to boot.... Hmm. What is it exactly?.... I can't quite put my finger on it. Let's remember that according to the new study, 93 percent of those arrested under Secure Communities are Latinos.

The original press release announcing the District of Columbia rejection of Secure Communities is below. The release from DC Jobs with Justice and NDLON highlights some of the new policy decisions. Are the District's protections and safeguards so unreasonable?
Mayor Vincent Gray of the District of Columbia will sign TOMORROW Wednesday October 19 an Executive Order to reject the "Secure Communities" deportation program. This is a remarkable victory for the immigrant rights movement. 
In essence, the Executive Order is expected to Direct the Department of Corrections and D.C. Metropolitan Police Department as well as all District agencies: 
  • Not to inquire about a person’s immigration status unless the person’s immigration status is central to an investigation of a criminal activity. This includes crime victims, witnesses, or others who call or approach the police seeking assistance. 
  • To establish a policy to ensure that D.C. incarcerated youth and adults are not made available for immigration interviews in-person, over the phone or by video unless there is a court order. 
  • Not to detain persons solely on the belief that he or she is not present legally in the United States, or that he or she has committed a civil immigration violation. 
  • To remove the place of birth field from the arrest booking form. 
  • Only hold individuals on Immigration detainers (ICE holds) if immigration status is central to a criminal investigation. Immigration detainers, or ICE hold requests, do not impose any obligation on the department, and shall be understood as requests.
Hopefully this information will help inform the discussion in Maryland communities.

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