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Is "Secure Communities" Program Living Up to its Name...

June 15, 2010

CLACKAMAS, Ore. - Arizona has been making most of the immigration-related headlines, but today, an Oregon protest calls attention to Latinos' concerns about a federal program that joins local and national law enforcement.

Clackamas, Marion and Multnomah Counties are part of the national "Secure Communities" program, giving local law enforcement authority to help federal Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) agents nab undocumented immigrants convicted of violent crimes. After more than a year, however, Hispanics in those counties say it has had a chilling effect, no matter what their immigration status.

Lorena Connelly, who runs a domestic violence shelter and family services group, says many immigrants are afraid to come forward with concerns, even those who are crime victims.

"We're going to have more crime, more domestic violence, more child abuse, because people are afraid to do reports. People don't want to be identified as immigrants."

Connelly says she sees it in her women's shelter, Casa Hogar, in Clackamas.

"They still call us, but the first thing they say is, 'Please, do not make a report to the police; we don't want to get the police involved.' We will help them with a restraining order; now, they say, 'No, no, no, please don't. We do not want a restraining order.'"

The Secure Communities program outfits local jails with biometrics equipment to check people's fingerprints against federal immigration records. ICE says it ensures fewer innocent people are detained, and does not require changing any local law enforcement procedures.

Connelly says she routinely gets questions about what types of paperwork will be sufficient to prove a person is in the United States legally. She hesitates to tell people to carry Social Security cards and work permits, in case of theft.

"Most of the Latino community, they don't carry those documents - because most of the time, people have heard, 'You know, you better leave your safe papers at home.' They don't carry the papers with them."

The protest is today at 4:30 at the ICE offices, 511 N.W. Broadway, Portland. CAUSA, the Rural Organizing Project, and SEIU Local 503 are hosting the rally. They will call for an end to Oregon's involvement in the Secure Communities program, and for federal immigration reform.

Chris Thomas, Public News Service - OR