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Will uncovering the truth on immigration lead to more accountability?

Fired up by the passage of Arizona’s harsh new anti-immigrant bill SB1070, organizations across the country launched a week of actions aimed to “Uncover the Truth” about collaborations between federal immigration and local police. These collaborations, carried out through programs such as 287(g) and Secure Communities begun during the Bush administration, are precursors to Arizona’s new law that gives local law enforcement the right to check the immigration status of people. Originally intended for violent criminals, these programs have become notorious for racial profiling and misuse by local police, compounded by inadequate training and a lack of transparency.

“Uncover the Truth” kicked off yesterday with the The National Day Laborer Organizing Network, The Center for Constitutional Rights and the Immigration Justice Clinic announcing a Freedom of Information (FOI) lawsuit for records related to the little known Secure Communities program. According to Sunita Patel-

ICE’s so-called Secure Communities program is growing at an alarming rate – more than 150 jurisdictions so far – without public knowledge or discourse…SB1070 and the recent dangerous ICE raids in Arizona have already proven that ICE and local or state police collaboration will only further erode public trust in law enforcement, systematize racial profiling, create incentives for illegal arrests and prevent police from doing their job, failing to keep our communities safe.

While the government’s own report has pointed out glaring problems in the 287(g) program, the Secure Communities program has not received adequate attention, even as it expands at a worrying pace. For those jails enrolled in the program, Secure Communities runs fingerprints through immigration databases when individuals are arrested, even for minor charges or if charges are dismissed. If there is a “hit”, immigration is notified and the individual is funneled into immigration detention. These checks are performed on innocent arrestees even before conviction, raising serious doubts as to whether it fulfills its stated objective of going after violent criminals.

Besides eroding community trust with the police, the program has criminalized the immigration detention system with a majority of those caught identified for minor crimes or U.S. citizens. An FOI found Secure Communities has “misidentified more than 5,800 arrested U.S. citizens as undocumented workers” since 2008. Available evidence shows little accountability and transparency, yet a whopping $200 million has been allocated to Secure Communities, with an eye toward establishing it nationwide in every jail by late 2012.

Before it gets that far, “Uncover the Truth’s” national week of action is making Congress accountable through press conferences, community forums, vigils at detention centers and audio testimonials across Arizona, California, Texas, Georgia, New York, Maryland and many other cities, asking questions about the way these collaborations impair people’s trust in their police officers and instigate racial profiling.

But increasing enforcement seems to be on the horizon, both in the blueprint for an immigration reform bill put forth by Senator Charles Schumer and Lindsey Graham, as well as a contingency plan Democrat only immigration reform bill (in case no Republican agree to support the blueprint) that came out today that calls for increased border security and immigration effort before a path for legalization for the nation’s undocumented population. This plan too seems to be going down the path of increased enforcement, rather than addressing the serious problems caused by programs such as Secure Communities and 287(g).

UPDATE: An Immigration and Customs Enforcement memo that was leaked to the press exposes ICE’s attempts to use spin and deception in response to the Uncover the Truth campaign. The six-page internal memo contains ICE’s media strategy including the targeted placement of opinion-editorials in “major newspapers in the right cities where protests are planned”, national interviews and talking point about the success of Secure Communities.  Sarahi Uribe, NDLON organizer and national coordinator of the “Uncover the Truth” campaign spoke in response to the memo -

It is deeply disturbing that ICE responded to our simple request for truth and accountability with an aggressive strategy for spin and deception. At a time when its clear that the federal government’s irresponsibility gave rise to the crisis in Arizona, rights groups now feel under attack for demanding basic answers from our government.

Photo courtesy of citylimits.org

POLL: Will the expansion of Secure Communities lead to more SB1070's?

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