How immigrants are redefining 'American' in Southern California
Almost three years ago, after a flurry of lawsuits alleging overcrowding, shoddy medical care and the unlawful detention of children in one former prison-turned-immigrant detention center in Texas, Homeland Security officials announced they'd be reforming the immigrant detention system.
The jury is still out on how much of those planned reforms have taken root; last fall, a report put out by an international human rights organization suggested that in spite of promises to make detention centers more liveable, "the overwhelming majority of detainees are still held in jails or jail-like facilities."
Enter what U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement is calling its "first-ever designed-and-built civil detention center." It's in Karnes City, Texas and is owned by Karnes County, with the county acting as middleman between ICE and The Geo Group, a private prison company. As is standard practice, counties contract with these companies to develop immigrant detention centers for the government, receiving a cut of the revenue in exchange.
Photo by Chad Miller/Flickr (Creative Commons)
In August, after the federal government rescinded state contracts related to the Secure Communities immigration enforcement program, those states that at the time were trying to opt out of the controversial fingerprint-sharing program seemed to have little choice but to comply.
But there's another option, at least according to a California state legislator who is retooling a bill from last year to allow for another kind of out: Restricting how law enforcement agencies hold immigrants for deportation at the request of federal immigration officials.
The yet-to-be-introduced California bill is a retooled version of the TRUST Act, a measure approved last May by the state Assembly that would have allowed the state to renegotiate its contract with the feds and allowed local jurisdictions to opt out of Secure Communities if they wanted to. It had begun moving through the Senate when U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement director John Morton sent a letter to state governors terminating the contracts, whose language did not suggest the program was mandatory.
The back-and-forth between immigration authorities and a university center that tracks federal data has become more heated, after Syracuse University's Transactional Records Access Clearinghouse (TRAC) sent out a press release today once again accusing the federal government of inflating its deportation statistics and withholding public information.
In a report last month, TRAC accused U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement of inflating its tally of criminal deportations. ICE officials criticized the report as "wildly misleading," saying that deportees' criminal histories aren't always found in administrative removal records, hence the disparity in numbers.
In its release today, TRAC claims that an examination of case-by-case records provided by U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement under the Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) reveals that "many fewer individuals were apprehended, deported or detained by the agency than were claimed in its official statements — congressional testimony, press releases, and the agency's latest 2010 Yearbook of Immigration Statistics." From the release:
Photo by John Moore/Getty Images
A man is prepared for a deportation flight bound for San Salvador in Mesa, Arizona, December 2010
In fiscal year 2011, the Obama administration broke its own deportation record for the second straight year, deporting close to 400,000 people in the year that ended last Sept. 30.
It wouldn't be a stretch to say that news of another record-breaking year for removals was pretty much expected, with the continued expansion of federal immigration enforcement programs like Secure Communities and 287(g), both of which have fed the deportation pipeline in recent years with a steady flow of cases stemming from local law enforcement.
The number of deportations has crept upward steadily for years now. According to a federal chart, U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement has removed these many people in recent years:
FY 2010 = 392,862
FY 2009 = 389,834
FY 2008 = 369,221
FY 2007 = 291,060
Photo by Corey Moore/KPCC
Anti-Secure Communities protesters in Los Angeles, August 15, 2011
The controversy over the federal immigration enforcement program known as Secure Communitieshas been brewing since not long after it was first implemented 2008, during the waning days of the Bush administration. But after a heated back-and-forth between state, local and federal officials over the program as some jurisdictions attempted to withdraw - only to be told they couldn't - the controversy came to a head this year.
First, in a nutshell, how Secure Communities works: When state or local authorities book someone into a local jail, the person's fingerprints are electronically submitted to the FBI. These fingerprints are then sent to the Department of Homeland Security, and U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement agents check them against an immigration records database to determine if the person is deportable (legal residents are also subject to deportation if they have committed certain offenses). The person is then held for deportation by ICE.