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Fed. Program Criticized for Punitive Effect on Violence Victims

The nation's Immigration and Customs Enforcement ("ICE") division lauds a federal program that its officials say brings about the deportation of many thousands of dangerous criminals each year.

Not everyone agrees with its rosy assessment. Indeed, legislators in many states are questioning its legitimacy, with some of them now refusing to join the federal program, called Secure Communities, under which inmates booked locally have their fingerprints forwarded to ICE to be screened for immigration status. They say it is sweeping up and severely punishing far more than murderers, rapists and other dangerous felons. Critics say that it is also punishing persons who committed only misdemeanors, as well as victims of crimes, including domestic violence.

A representative case, for example, involves an undocumented mother who called police after suffering regular beatings from her partner. Although the woman was the injured party, the jail fingerprinted her as well as the assailant, and subsequently turned her over to ICE for deportation.

That type of occurrence is what rankles state politicians and various advocacy groups across the country, who allege that Secure Communities operates in a manner far removed from its stated mandate.

"With punitive methods that sweep them all up, there's no trust," says one California lawmaker. Additionally, e-mails released by ICE show that the agency, while internally stating that the program was not a volitional undertaking with the states (i.e., the agency has always envisioned the fingerprints of all booked persons being automatically sent from states' jails to the FBI criminal database), knowingly misled state officials by emphasizing the voluntary nature of the program.

Some states are pushing back hard. Washington recently became the first state to refuse to join the program. Washington, D.C., has withdrawn altogether. Other states want amending language drafted to protect domestic violence victims, juveniles and other vulnerable parties.

Is the program legal? Homeland Security says it is, and that it does not need approval from state and local authorities because Secure Communities is simply "an information-sharing program between federal partners."

That response is drawing progressively more criticism from a broad coalition of opponents.

We will keep readers posted of material developments in this matter.

Related Resource: Los Angeles Times, "Noncriminals swept up in federal deportation program" April 24, 2011

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