Task force hears concerns, complaints about Secure Communities deportation program

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Protesters with Coalition for Humane Immigrant Rights of Los Angeles (CHIRLA) hold signs as they march during an anti Secure Communities program demonstration on August 15, 2011 in Los Angeles.

Hundreds of immigrants and activists packed a Los Angeles community hearing Monday night to voice their complaints about “Secure Communities.” The federal immigration enforcement program coordinated with local jails uses the fingerprints of booked suspects to identify serious offenders for deportation.

The hearing was scheduled by a federal task force formed to make recommendations about the controversial program to the U.S. Department of Homeland Security.

At St. Anne's Residential Facility in L.A., representatives of the task force listened to speakers criticize Secure Communities.

Activist Ron Gochez stood in the back of the room holding a Mexican flag. He echoed their comments and said he’s unconvinced anything beneficial will come from the hearing.

“All of us here wants Secure Communities to die," Gochez said. "We want it to end immediately. It’s a dog and pony show. This is going nowhere and we don’t buy it for a second.

Sister Rosemary Welsh is a nun who heads a domestic violence shelter in Laredo, Texas. "We are not here to be used. We are here to listen.” She was one of the two task force members conducting the hearing.

“It’s a real issue with people, with some of the Secure Communities and other immigration policies," Welsh said, "so we’re really trying to look at them to see what recommendations we might be able to make.”

Protesters say the fingerprint-sharing program has led to the deportations of thousands of undocumented immigrants, many with minor or no criminal histories, and some who were actually victims.

Critics say many crime victims, such as those who suffer domestic abuse, now fear they’ll get kicked out of the country if they ask police for help. Some at the hearing cried as they shared their experiences of being targeted for deportation after they called 911.

Task member Arturo Venegas agrees there are serious issues with the program. He says it likely dissuades more than just undocumented immigrants from cooperating with law enforcement.

"Maybe a family member," Venegas said. "The fact is that you may be here an American citizen or legal resident, but your spouse, your neighbor, whoever that you're calling about may not necessarily be, so a fear of somebody else deporting."

The 20-member task force was created in response to escalating controversy over the immigration enforcement program. This was the only hearing scheduled on the West Coast. Members say they'll make recommendations to Homeland Security officials as early as September.

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