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CA Dems to Feds: Hands Off Our Immigrants

California fights back against a federal program that deports crime victims and minor offenders.

| Wed Apr. 27, 2011 3:24 PM EDT
Jaime Aguilar, a Salvadoran immigrant going through deportation proceedings as a result of the Secure Communities program.

On February 13, Jaime Aguilar was standing at 16th and Mission streets in San Francisco when a police officer approached him for holding an open beer can. The officer asked him if he had a California ID, and when he replied that he didn't (he's an undocumented worker from El Salvador), he was arrested and taken to a nearby police station. He was then transferred to the police station on nearby Bryant Street, and within 13 hours, a man with a previously clean record—the father of two children—was wearing an ankle bracelet, about to be deported for drinking beer in public.

Aguilar, like hundreds of Californians, had been ensnared by a federal immigration program called "Secure Communities," or S-Comm. While Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) purported to target dangerous criminals when it began implementing the program a year and a half ago, recent data (PDF) reveal how the majority of those targeted in the state have committed minor crimes, such as traffic offenses, or no crimes at all. Because the program's results have differed so markedly from its declared intentions, state lawmakers have been pushing to pass a bill that would allow counties to opt out of S-Comm.

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AB1081, sponsored by state Assemblyman Tom Ammiano (D-San Francisco) and referred to as the TRUST Act, sailed through a Public Safety Committee hearing on Tuesday. If passed into law, it will require counties to officially agree to opt in to S-Comm. One of the biggest complaints about the enforcement program is that counties were never notified when S-Comm took root. Renee Saucedo, an organizer with the San Francisco advocacy center La Raza Centro Legal, remembers: "Jerry Brown went into agreement with ICE without any input from various counties. When we found out about it, people were already being reported and deported."

When counties such as San Francisco and Santa Clara attempted to opt out of S-Comm, they were given mixed messages from ICE about whether that was even possible. "Immigration is lying to the citizens of California," said  Kimberly Alvarenga, a spokesperson for Tom Ammiano, at a San Francisco press conference on Monday. "Now they are telling us it's a mandatory program—what is the truth here?"

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