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Daily Newscasts

"Secure Communities"...Or Anything But?

August 10, 2011

ST. HELENS, Ore. - Oregon's immigrant community is raising concerns about public safety in light of a Homeland Security Department decision that individual states cannot opt out of the "Secure Communities" program.

That program gives local sheriffs the responsibility of turning over immigrants accused of crimes to U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE), the federal immigration authorities. But an Oregon attorney says more than half the detainees are not criminals. Stephen Manning, with the Immigrant Law Group, says the program is alienating local police, who make the initial arrests, from those they are trying to protect.

"Those individuals, if they end up getting booked into the jail, they will be deported, they will be detained; they will be sucked into this very nebulous system. And the police take the blame for that - and it's not the police's doing. It's ICE's doing, and it's the sheriff's doing."

In rural areas, where local law enforcement is often focused on building relationships, Secure Communities has put police and sheriffs' departments at cross-purposes, according to Amanda Aguilar Shank, Columbia County organizer for the Rural Organizing Project, who says the result is less security.

"As we're in this budget crisis, it becomes even more important to have a level of trust and community-building in the community. When you're targeting one minority and making the community unsafe for them, that means that more crimes go unreported."

Manning says a simple traffic stop can throw a person into jail - and that person's family into turmoil.

"People call us in crisis all the time. They don't understand what's happening; it's a completely opaque process. And people call us frequently because people have disappeared - 'We don't know where this person is. They were coming home from work, and then suddenly, we get a phone call and they're now in this detention facility in Texas. How did that happen?' "

ICE sees Secure Communities as an effective partnership that has increased deportations. But three states - Illinois, Massachusetts and New York - have refused to be part of it. Oregon has not taken a stand on it, although Gov. John Kitzhaber has said he sees the need for clear boundaries between local law enforcement and federal immigration enforcement.

Chris Thomas, Public News Service - OR