Protesters march in Los Angeles, where the Homeland Security Advisory… (Anne Cusack / Los Angeles…)
When hundreds of immigrant advocates gathered in Los Angeles this week to address a federal task force aimed at recommending changes to the Secure Communities immigration enforcement program, their message was not about possible changes. It was a call to terminate the program.
Activists pledged to continue spreading that message this week with several actions aimed at ending Secure Communities, which shares fingerprints collected by state and local police to help immigration authorities identify and deport tens of thousands of people each year.
When launched in 2008, Secure Communities was touted as a way to target serious convicts for deportation. But the program has come under fire because a large percentage of those caught up in it are people who have been arrested but not subsequently convicted of a crime or are low-level offenders.
In a statement published Tuesday, Cecilia Munoz, the White House director of Intergovernmental Affairs, said the program is central to President Obama's strategy of prioritizing the removal of convicted criminals. Secure Communities, she wrote, "is a powerful tool to keep the government's immigration enforcement resources focused where they belong."
But activists were not swayed.
"This program has been repudiated by governors in Illinois, New York and Massachusetts. It's been repudiated by police chiefs and it's largely repudiated by the Latino community," said Roberto Lovato, of the Latino advocacy group Presente.org, which helped organize the week's actions. "So why is President Obama out there making it worse by expanding this program?"
On Wednesday, several protesters were arrested outside a task force hearing in Chicago, while earlier in the week, protesters in six cities around the country dropped off petitions at local Democratic Party headquarters demanding the elimination of the program.
The task force was formed in response to growing opposition to the Department of Homeland Security enforcement program. The effort, touted as a way to identify and deport convicted felons, has been criticized for also ensnaring minor offenders, victims of domestic abuse and other crimes, as well as witnesses to crimes and people who had been arrested but not convicted of offenses.
Its members, including police and sheriff's officials, prosecutors, and immigration and community advocates, have pledged to listen to public comments before issuing their recommendations, but they are facing growing resistance by those who say any changes will be insufficient.
At Monday's hearing in Los Angeles, several undocumented men and women who are going through deportation proceedings addressed the task force. A woman who was arrested after she called to report domestic violence and several workers arrested when their office was raided during an investigation into the employer said they were placed in deportation proceedings after their arrests despite the charges against them being dropped.
Several audience members, chanting "Terminate the program and resign," left about halfway through the meeting.