Wednesday, August 10, 2011
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Feds buck Quinn, order cooperation in illegal alien program

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[August 10, 2011]  SPRINGFIELD -- The federal government is requiring Illinois police to report illegal immigrants who are arrested on any charge from public intoxication to murder, in spite of Gov. Pat Quinn's opposition.

InsuranceOn Friday, the U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement agency, or ICE, canceled contracts with the 39 states participating in Secure Communities -- a program in which local and state law enforcement officials share fingerprints with the federal government.

ICE, the investigative arm of the U.S. Department of Homeland Security, or DHS, did not cancel the contracts in order to end the program, but rather to assert that ICE doesn't need a state's permission, in this case via a contract, to operate the deportation program.

"ICE continues to work with its law enforcement partners across the country to responsibly and effectively implement this federal information sharing capability," ICE Director John Morton said in a news release.

ICE's action came three months after Quinn ended Illinois' timid two-year participation in Secure Communities. Since the program started in November 2009, 76 of Illinois' 102 counties abstained from participating, the most notable being Cook County, home to Chicago.

"Illinois remains concerned that the program can have the opposite effect of its state(d) purpose," said Brie Callahan, a spokeswoman for Quinn's office. "Instead of making our communities safer, the program's flawed implementation may divide communities (and) families."

The federal program, created under Republican President George W. Bush, was engineered to deport illegal immigrants who've been convicted of a felony or at least three misdemeanors in the same year in the United States or a previous crime in their home country.

Local police departments sent the fingerprints of anyone arrested and fingerprinted for any reason to the state police and FBI. ICE then can access the fingerprints through the FBI and check them against several ICE databases of illegal and legal immigrants.

When ICE discovers a fingerprint linked to an illegal immigrant, it looks at that person's immigration status and criminal history, among other things, to determine whether to deport him.

The program does not cost the states any extra funding, according to ICE.

ICE officials are using the states to deport illegal immigrants, even if they aren't charged with a crime, instead of removing hardened criminals as promised, Quinn said this spring when he ended Secure Communities in Illinois.

Under federal law, illegal immigrants residing in United States are violating federal civil statute, not criminal statute.

Quinn's announcement, which came after he won the 2010 gubernatorial election with the backing of many prominent Hispanic leaders in the state, marked the first time a participating state pulled out of the program completely.

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The 26 Illinois counties that were active in Safe Communities sent more than 144,000 fingerprints to the FBI between November 2009 and April. During that time frame, ICE deported 773 people, of which only 293, or 38 percent, were convicted felons, either in the United States or another country the United States recognizes as sovereign, according to ICE statistics.

"It's very clear from these numbers that the program is going far, far beyond what it was originally sold as," said Fred Tsao, the policy director for the Illinois Coalition for Immigrant and Refugee Rights, an advocacy group for immigrants.

Tsao said the program undermines the trust between local law enforcement and illegal immigrants, causing crimes to go unreported and leading to an unwillingness to cooperate for fear of deportation.

Sheriffs in counties participating in Secure Communities are split on its merits.

Kane and DuPage counties were the first two law enforcement jurisdictions to sign up for the program in November 2009. Since then, Kane County Sheriff Pat Perez has been an outspoken opponent of the program.

"Since the inception of Secure Communities, there has been a sweeping change, such as people in our custody for offenses such as no valid driver's license being ... sent to deportation proceedings. This does not align itself for the reason for launching Secure Communities," Perez said at a news conference on the subject in March.

However, Clinton County Sheriff Mike Kreke said the program helps his department remove illegal immigrants, convicted criminals or not, from the community and send them back to their country of origin.

"We've run across more illegals than illegals with a criminal history. With the people with criminal history, either we don't have them here, or we haven't run across them. I think it's a program that doesn't add any more work to us and I think benefits everyone involved," said Kreke, whose department joined Secure Communities in September.

About half of the country's law enforcement jurisdictions are participating in Secure Communities, which is expected to be nationwide by 2013.

[Illinois Statehouse News; By ANDREW THOMASON]

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