Immigration Advocates Call On Sheriff Baca To Drop S-COMM

Catherine Green | September 23, 2011 | Staff Reporter | Source:

Critics of S-COMM, like SCIC's Ron Gochez (pictured), say the program splits families apart through wrongful deportation. (Catherine Green)

Immigration rights groups and advocates of the Latino community rallied Thursday against the sheriff department’s support of a controversial immigrant identification program.

Representatives from the Southern California Immigration Coalition (SCIC) and Central American Resource Center (CARECEN) among other groups headed a crowd of 40 outside of Southwestern Law School downtown to protest Secure Communities (S-COMM).

The program, implemented in 2008, is an information-sharing partnership between federal authorities and local and state enforcement. When individuals are taken into custody, their fingerprints are sent to U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) for verification against immigration databases.

If the search pulls up a record, ICE steps in, “prioritizing the removal of individuals who present the most significant threats to public safety as determined by the severity of their crime, their criminal history, and other factors,” according to the agency’s web site.

Critics of the program say too often this enforcement results in wrongful deportation. Press materials distributed at the rally cited a startling statistic: 50 to 60 percent of those deported under S-COMM have not committed a serious offense.

ICE contended it has made efforts to address the frequency of these cases. The agency reported a 23 percent reduction in deportation of persons without criminal convictions since 2008. A factsheet on ICE’s website also noted 86,600 immigrants convicted of crimes have been removed since the program’s start.

Still, several states, namely Massachusetts, New York and Illinois, decried the program. In June, U.S. Homeland Security officials released new guidelines for S-COMM, and a federal task force of immigration advocates and law enforcement officials was charged with reviewing the initiative and recommending possible changes.

Several representatives on the 20-member task force have resigned or removed their names prior to submission of the final report. Last week, retired Sacramento Police Chief Arturo Venegas announced his resignation. He said he could not stand behind the report that fell short in reforming a program that was “undermining public safety,” according to The Los Angeles Times.

The committee released its contentious report Sept. 16. Among the suggested changes were improved communication with participating jurisdictions, increased transparency, a stronger commitment to prioritizing deportation of persons who pose a serious threat to public safety and greater accountability for civil liberties violations.

But Marvin Andrade, executive director of CARECEN, said these recommendations are inadequate. He said the “counterproductive” S-COMM program has had a ripple effect on the community. “It’s bringing insecurity,” he said. “It’s creating a mistrust between people and local authorities. It needs to stop.”

Andrade and other advocates are targeting Sheriff Leroy Baca, who has continued to support and implement the program. Baca was scheduled to appear as a panelist in a discussion of the controversial initiative that evening inside the law school.

The sheriff’s department did not return calls for comment.

Above the honks of passing cars and protesters chanting “No justice, no peace, no racist police,” Ron Gochez of SCIC said the coalition will continue to push the sheriff on the issue of immigration reform. “The fact is, he supports a completely devastating program to our communities,” Gochez said. “He has to come out against it. And if he doesn’t, then he has to face the political pressure as well.”

The advocacy groups are calling for reform on the federal level. Gochez said it is up to the current administration to shift immigration policy from enforcement toward integration. He and SCIC are holding Obama to his 2009 platform promising comprehensive reform.

“If we don’t get legalization now, there’s no reelection,” Gochez said. “Don’t count on us. Don’t even dare come to our communities asking for our votes.”

Both Gochez and Andrade said their organizations plan to greet President Obama during his scheduled visit Monday, capping off a Week of Action.

“We want to keep the momentum going,” Andrade said as Thursday’s rally began to wind down.

“We’re going to welcome the President with the same action we had here today, and bring attention to the massive deportation that’s happening under his watch.”

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