Officials call for Governor Brown to suspend ‘Secure Communities’

Los Angeles law enforcement already has a strained relationship with the city’s growing immigrant communities and city officials claim the U.S. Immigrations and Customs Enforcement’s (ICE) current strategy is making it worse.

On June 7, the Los Angeles City council passed a resolution calling for the suspension of the “Secure Communities” program in California. City officials affirmed the federal program unfairly deports non-criminals and discourages immigrants from cooperating with police.

“How do you get someone to call 9-1-1 when they fear deportation for being a good samaritan?” asked Congressman Xavier Becerra (CA-31).

Rep. Becerra and fellow congressional representatives today released a letter calling for Governor Jerry Brown to suspend the program in California. The letter asserts that more than 45 percent of “individuals taken into ICE custody from L.A. County had not committed a crime or had only been charged with a low-level offense.”

“Secure Communities” was implemented in 2008 with the goal to identify undocumented criminal immigrants by sharing information with local and state law enforcement. But many of these agencies claim the program was unclear on whether or not participation was mandatory. Los Angeles officials want to halt the program until it’s reviewed by the Department of Homeland Security’s Inspector General’s Office to prevent further rifts between law enforcement and immigrants.

Council members Bernard Parks (CD-8) and Jan Perry (CD9), who earlier this week co-sponsored a resolution calling for the suspension of “Secure Communities,” joined the congressional representatives during a press conference announcing the letter. Parks, a former Los Angeles Police Chief, said “this is about maintaining a 40-year history in the city of Los Angeles in directing its energies towards having great relationships with immigrant communities … so that people having a willingness to come forward and not be victimized.”


But not all law enforcement agencies agree the program is a bad thing. While the Los Angeles Police Department opposes the implementation of “Secure Communities,” arguing immigrants will be reluctant to report crimes for fear of deportation, Sheriff Lee Baca is a staunch supporter. Steve Whitmore, spokesperson for the sheriff, says Baca “understands their concern and shares some of these concerns, but for right now he thinks the program should be improved as it moves forward. He believes that Secure Communities is an effective program.”

Perry’s main concern is that the program discourages immigrants who are victims of domestic violence to report abuse for fear that they may be deported for contacting police for help.

“We don’t feel protected by the police so much anymore because it becomes an immigration issue, even if we’re waiting on the street for a job or bus,” said Alma Martinez, a 40-year old Salvadoran member of Janitors for Justice, a Service Employees International Union advocacy group. “We’re against what they’re doing because they’re no longer just targeting criminals, but common people.”

In addition to Becerra, the six other congressional representatives who signed the letter urging Governor Jerry Brown to act are Lucille Roybal-Allard, Judy Chu, Maxine Waters, Linda Sanchez , Grace Napolitano and Karen Bass.

Governors of Massachusetts, Illinois and New York have passed similar measures. Washington state, Washington D.C. and Pennsylvania have resisted the program since its inception.

Legislation for California to withdraw from the program has passed in the state Assembly. A vote is still pending in the Senate.

“If we don’t act now,” Becerra said, “the Department of Homeland Security’s Immigration and Customs Enforcement agency may irreparably shatter the hard-earned trust and cooperation … that our local police officers have established with the people and communities of Los Angeles and beyond.”

Photos by Lisa Rau

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