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DHS Decision to Rescind MOAs Lacks Legal Authority and Violates Principles of Democratic Government

From the Rights Working Group-

The Department of Homeland Security’s (DHS) Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) agency has demonstrated that it has gone completely rogue.  Since rolling out the Secure Communities program in 2008, ICE has signed Memoranda of Agreement (MOAs) with various states and over 1500 jurisdictions have been activated with the program.

On Friday afternoon, ICE announced, shockingly, that it will unilaterally rescind the MOAs and proceed with Secure Communities without the agreement of state and local jurisdictions.

Contrary to the announcement of John Sandweg, Counselor to the DHS Secretary and Deputy Secretary, the federal statute that Sandweg cites as mandating participation in Secure Communities does nothing of the kind. It requires information sharing but does not require states to participate in this initiative, nor does it require the deportation of migrants who have been arrested but not yet convicted of crimes.

ICE insists that Secure Communities is mandatory and will become fully operational in every jurisdiction of the country by 2013.  Rights Working Group denounces ICE’s actions.

“Across the country, local jurisdictions and states have publicly rejected the Secure Communities program and have told the federal government that they do not want Secure Communities destroying their communities, separating families, and encouraging discriminatory police practices such as racial profiling.  For ICE to thumb their nose at the decisions of elected officials to withdraw from the program is without legal basis and offensive,” said Margaret Huang, Executive Director of Rights Working Group.

Due to the public outcry about the program and the dangers it poses to community policing and safety, as well as the program’s violations of long-held principles of due process and fairness, several states and localities have demanded to opt out of Secure Communities.  Most recently, governors of New York, Illinois, and Massachusetts have informed ICE that their states will no longer participate in the program.

Rights Working Group has long denounced the lack of transparency and accountability in the implementation of Secure Communities. Investigative reporters and documents received through a Federal of Information Act lawsuit unraveled ICE’s inaccurate statements and reversals of opinion on these MOAs—leading Congresswoman Zoe Lofgren (D-CA) and Senator Robert Menendez (D-NJ) to call for an investigation of the initiative.The Congressional Hispanic Caucus has urged the Obama Administration to place an immediate moratorium on Secure Communities.

Said Huang: “Secure Communities keeps local police from fulfilling their core mission of protecting our communities because when local police target people to enforce immigration law, it increases the level of fear and makes it far more difficult to gain community trust.”  The vast majority of undocumented battered women are already reluctant to report their abuse to police for fear of detention and deportation.  Secure Communities and similar programs make it even less likely that migrant witnesses and victims will come forward. “This Administration can no longer continue to stand by Secure Communities,” said Huang. “By continuing to support this program they are sanctioning racial profiling, eroding the trust local law enforcement agencies have built with communities of color and showing the international community that our immigration system does not respect the basic human rights of all persons in our country.”

Rights Working Group urges DHS to:

•    Immediately stop the implementation of Secure Communities and similar programs unless and until meaningful civil rights and civil liberties safeguards are put in place to ensure that racial profiling and other human rights violations are not occurring, including collecting data on the perceived race or ethnicity of the people arrested, the charges that are lodged and the ultimate disposition of the case.

•    Terminate Secure Communities in jurisdictions that have chosen to opt out of the program.

•    Immediately suspend Secure Communities in jurisdictions with a documented record of racial profiling or where DOJ is actively investigating a pattern or practice of discriminatory policing.

Photo courtesy of detentionwatchnetwork.com

Immigration reform is on the horizon but what about fair and just enforcement policy?

napolitano_featureThe past fortnight witnessed numerous developments on the immigration front, and almost all roads seem to be pointing to the pressing need for immigration reform that ensures fair and just enforcement.

The November 18th Families, Freedom and Faith telephonic town hall featuring Members of Congress Luis Gutierrez, Raul Grijalva, and Nydia Velazquez, was a huge success with more than 60,000 reform supporters calling in from 1,009 house parties in 45 states. During the event, which took the form of a massive conference call with more than 16,000 active telephone lines, organizers urged listeners to demand immigration reform by texting and calling Members of Congress. Congressman Gutierrez laid out a comprehensive vision for immigration reform and called on supporters to hold their leaders accountable.  In his words,

We need everyone on this call to take action with your churches, your families and your organizations so that we can deliver a strong message to President Obama and Congress that, hey, it has been a year…We want you to keep your promise to our families.  We’ll be watching on the State of the Union to make sure you keep your promise.

The huge turnout for the telephonic town hall came hot on the heels of Department of Homeland Security (DHS) Secretary Janet Napolitano’s speech at the Center for American Progress in which she made a strong case for the need for immigration reform, positing that  now is the time to take significant strides towards a  “three-legged stool” approach – regulating the flow of immigrants, dealing with those who are already here, and beginning with “fair, reliable enforcement.” She said:

Let me emphasize this. We will never have fully effective law enforcement or national security as long as so many millions remain in the shadows…Making sure these people become full taxpayers and pay their fair share will both benefit our economy and make it easier to enforce the laws against unscrupulous or exploitative employers.

But with the talk of reform must also be the talk of fair and just enforcement policies. In mid-October Immigration and Customs Enforcement announced new 287(g) memoranda of agreements (MOAs) with 67 state and local law enforcement agencies – an expansion of the already  existing program that arms state and local enforcement with immigration enforcement powers. Maricopa County Sheriff’s Office headed by Sheriff Joe Arpaio was one among several agencies accused of racial profiling to be granted a new MOA despite various complaints and an ongoing Department of Justice investigation. Even the UN Committee on the Elimination of Racial Discrimination has expressed its concerns in a letter to the Obama administration in which they outline the clear lack of progress towards ending racial discrimination in the United States, calling upon the Administration to “reconsider its policy under 287 (g) of the Immigration and Nationality Act.”

Problems with the new program are already emerging. Although the federal government has said that it was reformulating its agreements with local law enforcement to ensure that the 287(g) program was being used to detain only serious felons rather than those with misdemeanors to save precious resources, programs in places like the Sheriff’s department of Wake County, North Carolina are still operating unchanged and unchecked. Wake County Sheriff, Donnie Harrison confirmed that his department has not altered the way it implements the program. “We do the same thing if you’re charged for murder or if you’re charged with no operator’s license,” said Harrison, one of seven North Carolina sheriffs who have the program. “Nothing has changed for us.”

In Maricopa county, Alma Minerva Chacon was detained by Sheriff Arpaio’s officials while she was nine months pregnant. On the night of her arrest, Chacon went into labor and was rushed to a local hospital with her hands and legs shackled, and despite the nurses’ requests, was forced to give birth while shackled to the bed. Arpaio’s police staff did not allow Chacon to hold her baby girl and warned her that if no one came to claim the child within 72 hours, the child would be turned over to state custody. Watch Alma Minerva Chacon talking about her ordeal.

These shocking incidents only reinforce the need for the hour – immigration reform that respects fairness and due process and does not bargain one for the other.

Photo courtesy of www.reformimmigrationforamerica.org