By Bill Johnson Denver Post Columnist
January 5, 2011
Of course Bill Ritter, the prosecutor turned governor, signed it. Then again, maybe that was the right thing to do.
I'm talking about about the Secure Communities program the federal government is pushing states to enact. The law allows law enforcement to use fingerprints to check the immigration status of a person booked into jail.
On its face, the law seems a wonderful thing. It has led to the deportation of thousands of criminals. And then you look more closely at the places where it is already in effect, and problems appear rife.
It has needlessly separated families, deported young people brought here as infants by their parents, turned victims into the accused.
The government, though, touts only a record year for deportations.
Across the U.S., more than 392,000 immigrants were deported over the fiscal year ended Sept. 30, federal officials say.
According to U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement figures, the number includes more than 1,000 murderers, nearly 6,000 sex offenders, 45,000 drug offenders and 28,000 drunken drivers.
That is wonderful news. Still, only half of the 392,000 deported had criminal records, the supposed reason in the first place for the Secure Communities initiative.
It makes thinking people wonder about the other nearly 200,000 folks.
So I called Ricardo Martinez of Padres & Jovenes Unidos, an immigrant-rights organization in Denver long critical of the Secure Communities program.
That other half, he said, are people who, once cleared of any wrongdoing, still are targeted by ICE.
The government defends itself by saying that while the once-arrested may not have been the true targets of the program, it cannot simply turn its back on the immigration laws of the country.
"It is a catch-all law that anyone can get caught in," Martinez said. "I'm talking about innocent family members, their children, who will be ensnared with this law."
It is a racial-profiling law, he says flatly.
He tells the story of a Maryland woman who called the police after her partner beat her. During the subsequent investigation, police arrested her, and she was charged with selling a $10 phone card to a neighbor. She now faces deportation to her native El Salvador.
Such a thing would never happen in non-Hispanic communities, he said.
"The problem is it targets human beings as the problem, and not the broken immigration system in this country," he said.
Will members of the Hispanic community now call law enforcement when they are beaten, molested or robbed? he asked.
"It will only create tension and fear in the community," he said. Victims and witnesses both, he said, will turn silent. Local officers will be viewed not as protectors but as another arm of immigration enforcement.
"If you are an immigrant, why would you invite into your life officers who enforce a law that sees you not as a human being, only as a problem?"
Secure Communities, he said, will speed the deportation of thousands of Coloradans over the next year. The problem is it will be viewed as a solution to this nation's long immigration reform fight.
"In five years," Martinez said, "we will see how terrible this will be for communities. It won't create a better society. In our zeal to fix our broken immigration system, we will see this was hardly the answer."
Bill Johnson writes Mondays, Wednesdays and Fridays. Reach him at 303-954-2763 or firstname.lastname@example.org.