Setting the Record Straight on S-Comm

Setting the Record Straight on S-Comm

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Less than 24 hours after hundreds of immigrants and their allies chanted their way to the Los Angeles site where members of the discredited Department of Homeland Security’s Immigration and Customs Enforcement (DHS-ICE) sham taskforce on “Secure Communities” held a public hearing, the only one on the West Coast, the White House called on one its most respected guns to fire an impassioned salvo in defense of President Obama on the matter of immigration reform and the administration’s ever-vigilant deportation machine.

Entitled “In the Debate Over Immigration and Deportations, the Facts Matter,” the entry in The White House Blog by Cecilia Muñoz, White House Director of Intergovernmental Affairs and former immigrant-rights advocate at the National Council of La Raza (NCLR), was posted on Aug. 16.

With an opening broadside against immigrant rights advocates tacitly comparing them to anti-immigrant zealots, Ms. Muñoz argues the president’s heart is in the right place and that he is proud of the wrongly-coded “Secure Communities” program that requires police to share fingerprint data of all arrestees with federal immigration authorities, calling it “a powerful tool” and “central” to the administration’s strategy to fight crime in our communities.

S-Comm is indeed a “powerful tool” but one that is beloved by the likes of Sheriff Arpaio of Maricopa County, Arizona and Governor Deal of Georgia rather than the community that it is supposed to protect. It is no coincidence that these are supporters of SB 1070 and its copycat ilk – they are hoping that even if their hate-based laws are stopped in the courts, “the powerful tool” of S-Comm will be there to help deport community members. In spite of this, Ms. Muñoz feels that “anger and heated rhetoric from all sides dominate while the facts tend to get lost along the way.”

If there were any doubts the administration is feeling the heat over their unstated approval of more than a million deportations, none exist now. It appears that ICE has begun sharing the wool it has spun and failed to pull over the community’s eyes with the White House. Unfortunately, ahead of the 2012 election and feeling truly angry rhetoric of ultra-conservative presidential-candidates Minnesota Representative Michele Bachmann and Johnny-come-lately Texas Governor Rick Perry, signs are that this icy wool is clouding the line of sight from 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue.

For the record, Ms. Muñoz: While we agree that statistics matter, relying solely on ICE’s opaque numbers and fuzzy math puts us in the realm of Mark Twain’s three kinds of lies: “lies, damn lies and statistics.” Our community’s facts are generally on point—when ICE releases enough data for us to debunk, that is.

For the record: We have read the president’s expansive blueprint on comprehensive immigration reform. Although he has argued that a dance partner has been missing, I question the White House and the Democratic leadership’s decision to introduce legislation so late in the game, making it a fait acompli that it would fail. In the absence of a legislative victory, the president retains the power to exercise discretion as he enforces the law. If he doesn’t, perhaps signing Rep. Lamar Smith’s HALT Act might not be so bad after all, since the law would strip him of his power to do something that he never does.

Ms. Muñoz argues that Secure Communities is a smart and effective approach to fight crime. There is nothing smart about wasting precious resources on apprehending, processing, detaining and deporting men and women like Isaura, Blanca, Adan, and Ana, immigrant workers who have demonstrated that hard work and honesty can get you deported during these dark times. Even if ICE attorneys or judges way down the pipeline in the overwhelmed immigration courts are able to exercise discretion, there is no question that countless taxpayer dollars will have been wasted and, worse yet, fear will have been sown in the community.

For the record: Record numbers of deportations do not maximize public safety. The opposite is the case. By expanding the S-Comm dragnet, the Obama administration is eviscerating the few protections left, e.g., Special Order 40 in Los Angeles. Local police departments in jurisdiction after jurisdiction, as evidenced by a shadow report released this week are increasingly waking up to this fact. No amount of repeating the opposite makes it true.

As much as Ms. Muñoz, President Obama or Gary Mead, ICE’s executive associate director for Enforcement and Removal Operations, try to get Americans to drink the Kool-Aid that only those convicted of crimes are being prioritized, the facts speak for themselves. Indeed, Mr. Mead’s statements on KABC-TV 7 on Monday night were crystal clear: Being here in the United States without authorization is also a deportable offense and ICE is only too happy to use S-Comm to ensnare and deport our community members. Moreover, when we speak of crimes, what do we mean? Any conviction for just about anything will qualify? Director John Morton implied as much when he visited Los Angeles in June. He will wait until street vendors like Blanca or Magali are convicted of their vending misdemeanor and/or false ID charge, and then deport them as “criminals.” This is statistical chicanery of the highest order.

For the record: Nationally, over 25 percent of those deported via S-Comm have no criminal record. This number is even higher in many jurisdictions, a clear indicator of racial profiling by local police. Using Alice in Wonderland thinking, ICE absurdly argues that S-Comm reduces the risk of such profiling. In reality, it does no such thing. In fact, as Salt Lake City Police Chief Chris Burbank and others have pointed out, it even incentivizes it. ICE openly admits that racial profiling exists and it is allegedly looking for “anomalies” in S-Comm use around the country. So far, radio silence -- and S-Comm is nearly three years old. Yet, this dragnet is designed this way – ICE sells S-Comm by claiming that it doesn’t change police practices and if we are to believe that, it then follows that it leverages current racial profiling to help deport more people. And yes, half of overall ICE deportations are people who have been convicted of something, but the other half are non-criminals. We agree on this point with Ms. Muñoz, even if we choose to emphasize the whole picture.

I would like to be as optimistic as Ms. Muñoz, but changes to the S-Comm program announced in June are not “important” but rather “cosmetic.” The only S-Comm specific reforms were the creation of a Task Force, which heard from Los Angeles Monday night, and for the DHS Office of Civil Rights and Civil Liberties to monitor S-Comm. But we still wonder how a shrinking office with one statistician is supposed to monitor an out of control monster that is metastasizing across the country. I would also be remiss to point out that the review of S-Comm by the Office of the Inspector General at DHS is not the result of the S-Comm “reforms” by ICE but rather the strongly worded request by California Congresswoman Zoe Lofgren – who has been as deceived by ICE as the community. Implying otherwise is disingenuous.

Additionally, the famous and lauded memos, including the one for victims of domestic violence, are not specific to S-Comm. These memos were general in their scope and they are ineffective and rehashed ghosts from the past. They may occasionally have an effect on the backend, but only after the trauma of arrest, detention and trial. In other words, they do nothing to deal with the front-end horrors that S-Comm causes by forcing such close collaboration between local police and ICE and the rest of DHS. Again, implying that these memos will address the Orwellian design of S-Comm is giving them more credit than they are due.

Interestingly, Setting the Record Straight, a term used by Ms. Muñoz, was the title of an ICE document on S-Comm that was released last year, only to then mysteriously vanish once it was shown to be nothing more than hot air. The ICE document, among other tall tales, outlined what turned out to be a fantasy process for how local jurisdictions could opt out of S-Comm. It didn’t even mention what then appeared blindingly and legally obvious -- i.e. that states like California could opt out by cancelling their contracts or Memorandums of Agreeement (MOAs) with ICE – but has now also been rendered magic dust by ICE’s latest exercise in Orwellian logic. ICE is no longer honoring those MOAs, which have been disappeared just like the “Setting the Record Straight” document.

Hopefully the same fate awaits Ms. Muñoz’s blog post.

For the record, Mr. President: S-Comm and other deportation machines are nothing to be “proud” of. Shame is more accurate. Taking a Bush-era experiment like S-Comm, which is clearly part of a larger Big Brother FBI Scheme and spreading it like wildfire is thoughtless and reckless at best. It is time to swallow egos, flip the switch and pull the plug on this Frankenstein.

Jorge-Mario Cabrera is director of communications at the Coalition for Humane Immigrant Rights of Los Angeles (CHIRLA). IMMIGRATION MATTERS regularly features the views of immigration experts and advocates.