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Report criticizes deportation program, urges changes

A federal task force charged with reviewing the Secure Communities deportation program said that the controversial initiative has had an “adverse impact” on community policing and that Immigration and Customs Enforcement has provided inaccurate or incomplete information about the program to states and localities.

“To the extent that Secure Communities may damage community policing, the result can be greater levels of crime,” says a task force draft report obtained by The Times. “If residents do not trust their local police, they are less willing to step forward as witnesses to or victims of crime.”

Secure Communities, which was launched in 2008, shares fingerprints collected by state and local police with immigration authorities in order to identify and deport tens of thousands of people each year. It was initially touted as a way to target serious convicts for deportation but has come under fire because a large percentage of immigrants caught up in it were never convicted of a crime, or are low-level offenders.

The task force, made up of 20 appointees including immigrant advocates, law enforcement leaders and union members, was meant to soothe growing concerns over the program. Members were given an opportunity to recommend possible changes, including how to handle cases involving minor traffic offenders. But the process itself drew criticism. One hearing in Los Angeles in August drew hundreds of protesters who called on task force members to resign and then walked out.

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The report, which was completed this week, outlines a series of recommendations to fix the program, including reaffirming its highest priority as the identification and removal of those “who pose a danger to national security or a risk to public safety,” and an end to deportation based solely on minor traffic offenses.

The report also acknowledges that many members want the Department of Homeland Security to suspend its expansion of the program to all states and counties in the nation until federal officials can consider and implement the recommendations. All California counties are currently participating.

Several members of the task force resigned before the report was submitted. They included representatives of the AFL-CIO and the American Federation of Government Employees, which represents thousands of ICE agents and officials, who said they could not endorse the final report. Retired Sacramento Police Chief Arturo Venegas Jr. also resigned.

Venegas said he had come to question the legitimacy of Secure Communities itself.

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“There was a lot of hard work, but unfortunately I don’t think it went far enough,” Venegas said of the task force review. “Without concrete accountability measures and without concrete directives, the fact of the matter is people will still get into the system that shouldn’t be there.”

In a statement, Department of Homeland Security spokesman Matt Chandler said the report had been submitted to the Homeland Security Advisory Council, whose members will review and finalize the recommendations before submitting them to ICE Director John Morton.

Those who resigned or chose not to include their names on the report have been invited to meet with Morton to discuss their concerns as he reviews the final recommendations, Chandler said.

paloma.esquivel@latimes.com


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