House Divided Over Immigration Program

Republicans and Democrats in a House subcommittee butted heads over the effectiveness of Immigration and Customs Enforcement’s Secure Communities (S-Comm) program Wednesday amidst claims that the program promotes racial profiling.

ICE Associate Director of Enforcement and Removal Operations Gary Mead testified in front of the House Immigration Subcommittee, part of the House Judiciary Committee, assuring lawmakers that S-Comm is taking dangerous criminals off the streets.

“Secure Communities is smart, effective immigration enforcement,” Mead said. “It provides real time leads to the ICE criminal alien program, greatly reducing the likelihood that criminal aliens will be released from state and local custody back into the community.”

S-Comm — a program designed to identify criminal illegal immigrants in state and local custody — links information from local law enforcement with the FBI and ICE.  Therefore, when a person is arrested, local police send that person’s fingerprints to the FBI, which in turn shares the information with ICE to determine immigration status.

Proponents of the measure applauded the program, but said ICE’s “prosecutorial discretion” is allowing some criminals to go free because of the Obama administration’s decision to focus on deporting only illegal immigrants who have committed a crime.

“There’s no excuse for an illegal alien, who’s not supposed to be here in the first place, driving drunk on our roads and putting the lives of the people of my county in danger,” said Sheriff Sam Page of Rockingham County, N.C., in his written statement.

Instead, Julie Myers Wood, a former assistant secretary for ICE, recommended using the rapid repatriation program – a program that allows for the release of some  illegal immigrants considered non-violent, on the condition that they agree to leave the country, waive their appeal rights and agree not to return to the U.S.

Rep. Zoe Lofgren (D-Calif.), however, expressed concern over Secure Communities for incidents of racial profiling and sending into deportation proceedings undocumented immigrants who have not otherwise committed serious crimes.

“Everybody who I’ve talked to who has concerns about this program, doesn’t have a concern about having violent dangerous criminals removed,” Lofgren said. “There’s more commonality here than we might expect. Where we get into trouble is when it’s somebody who hasn’t committed an offense or they’re pulled over for a faulty tail light.”

Testifying in opposition to S-Comm, Arturo Venegas, a former police chief and an immigrant himself, said the program is damaging the relationship between law enforcement and the immigrant community because people are less likely to report crimes to police if there’s a chance that they could be deported.

“If you are an immigrant, and you are charged with a serious offense, or even a minor offense, you are ‘guilty until proven innocent’ and you will be referred for deportation,” Venegas said. “As an immigrant myself, and as an American citizen, I cannot support that differing standard.”

ICE plans to implement Secure Communities nationwide by 2013.

Originally for Talk Radio News Service.

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