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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

Last Friday, Rep. Zoe Lofgren (D-Calif.) said federal immigration officials should be investigated for deceiving local government and being intentionally unclear about the program. Recent correspondence obtained through a Freedom of Information Act request show that ICE knew the program was involuntary, yet was being intentionally vague about it (see my piece "Secure Governor, Insecure Communities" for more details). "You can't have a government department essentially lying to local government and to members of Congress. That is not OK," Lofgren told the Los Angeles Times.

One of the most vocal opponents of S-Comm is San Francisco Sheriff Michael Hennessey, who criticizes ICE for wavering on whether or not communities could opt out of S-Comm. "San Francisco has attempted to opt out for the past year," he told the crowd at Tuesday's hearing. "We were told initially we could opt out, then we couldn't, then we could... it's gone back and forth like a ping-pong ball for the last seven or eight months."

Another criticism of S-Comm is that it puts victims and witnesses of crime at risk for deportation, which could lead to less collaboration between immigrant communities and local police. In one of the most disturbing examples of the program's repercussions, an undocumented mother suffering from domestic abuse might have to enter deportation proceedings after she finally called the cops on her abuser and her fingerprints were then passed from the local jail to federal immigration officials. On top of being a victim of battery, she would have to wear an ankle bracelet and worry she would soon be separated from her three-year-old son.

"More than 50 percent of the San Francisco community is of Asian or Latino descent," Hennessey said. "There's a great deal of mistrust in our citizens about ICE and the deportation process. S-Comm sweeps up virtually anybody: anyone who steps up as a witness to a crime, anyone who steps up as a victim of a crime risks having their fingerprints passed on to federal authorities."

Claudia Reyes, of Mujeres Unidas y Activas, says that the women who come to her organization this year have grown more fearful of relaying information to police out of fear of deportation. To try and remedy some of these concerns, the TRUST Act requires that local law enforcement "shall not share the fingerprints of domestic violence victims with Immigration and Customs Enforcement officials."

Critics of Ammiano's bill include members of the California State Sheriff's Association, whose representative, Curtis Hill, told Tuesday's hearing audience that S-Comm alleviated financial stress on sheriff's offices around the state."Prior to S-Comm, agencies ran manual reports, which put burdens on clerical staff," Hill stated. "Now, sheriffs fingerprint everyone, and we feel this protects us from racial profiling allegations and removes burden on clerical services." Hill was the only opponent to speak at the Public Safety Committee Hearing, and Ammiano has promised to work with the Sheriff's Association in order to try and reconcile its concerns with the bill.

There's still looming uncertainty as to whether federal immigration will allow the opt-out bill to survive. "Where immigration is concerned, the federal government sets the policy," Homeland Security Director Janet Napolitano told the San Francisco Chronicle on Monday. But Quintin Mecke, a spokesman for Ammiano, argues that so far the federal government has not been very upfront about its position in local immigration enforcement. "In pushing for this bill, we are at least trying to clarify the relationship of what is happening and what everyone's role is," he says. Washington state and the District of Columbia have been successful in turning their backs on S-Comm, and legislation similar to Ammiano's is pending in Illinois.

As for Jaime Aguilar, the guy being deported for enjoying a cerveza in the Mission, he remains frustrated by treatment of undocumented immigrants in California. "I paint the gringos' houses and now they're kicking me out," he scoffed. "It's a shame; we've made a big contribution to this country."

As I spoke to him outside the San Francisco State University building on Monday morning, Aguilar began directing his anger toward someone who desperately needs Latino support during the next couple of years. "It's all Obama," Aguilar contended. "Since he took power, so many more people are getting deported. He promised us change, and instead all I get is this," he said in disgust, pointing to the black tracking device clasped around his ankle.

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