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  1. #1
    Administrator Jean's Avatar
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    Homeland Chief: Immigration Program up for Review

    WASHINGTON May 16, 2014 (AP)
    By ERICA WERNER Associated Press
    Associated Press

    Homeland Security Secretary Jeh Johnson, who's conducting a politically charged review of the nation's deportation policy, said Thursday he's looking at making changes to a much-criticized program that runs people booked for local crimes through a federal immigration database.

    Johnson said the "Secure Communities" program has "become very controversial" and needs "a fresh start."

    The program allows U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement officials to ask local police and sheriffs to detain people who've been booked and whose fingerprints match up in a federal database for immigration violations. ICE can then decide whether to deport them.

    That's led to complaints that people are being deported for immigration violations even without being convicted of any crime, or with only minor offenses. Police and sheriff's officials also complain people are afraid to interact with law enforcement because they worry they'll be deported. In the wake of recent court rulings casting doubt on the program, local governments have increasingly announced plans to refuse to honor the detention requests.

    Johnson offered little detail in comments on PBS' "NewsHour," but he indicated he might aim to revamp the program to focus on people who've actually been convicted, not just those arrested or booked.

    "In my judgment, Secure Communities should be an efficient way to work with state and local law enforcement to reach the removal priorities that we have, those who are convicted of something," he said.

    Changes to the Secure Communities program or other enforcement policies would answer some demands from immigrant advocates who've been pressuring President Barack Obama to take steps to curb record-high deportations on his watch. But many advocates have pushed for Secure Communities to be eliminated altogether, and such steps also would fall short of the sweeping action advocates are pushing for to allow some of the 11.5 million people in the country illegally to stay.

    "Secure Communities has caused irreparable damage to immigrant communities, and although any attempt to prevent families from being unnecessarily ripped apart is welcome, a step like this is simply too little, too late," said Kamal Essaheb, an attorney at the National Immigration Law Center.

    Obama two years ago extended work permits and protection from deportation to some immigrants brought to the U.S. illegally as children. Johnson said he was still reviewing the possibility of expanding the program, but he sounded notes of caution, as Obama has.

    "I would say that we have to be careful not to pre-empt Congress in certain areas," Johnson said. "They are the lawmakers. Whatever we do in the executive branch, we have to do within the confines of existing law."

    The deportation review comes with sweeping immigration legislation stuck in the GOP-led House 11 months after Senate passage.

    http://abcnews.go.com/Politics/wireS...eview-23741061
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    Official says immigration program up for review

    The article above has been updated.
    ~~~
    May 16, 12:28 PM EDT
    By ERICA WERNER


    AP Photo/Evan Vucci

    WASHINGTON (AP) -- President Barack Obama's review of the nation's deportation policies may result in changes to a contentious program that hands over people booked for local crimes to federal immigration authorities.

    But such steps are unlikely to satisfy advocates demanding dramatic action to help millions of people living here illegally.

    Homeland Security Secretary Jeh Johnson, offering his first public hints at the outcome of the review he's conducting at Obama's behest, said Thursday that the so-called Secure Communities program needs a "fresh start." He suggested it might be revamped to focus on people who actually have been convicted of crimes, not just those arrested or booked.

    "In my judgment, Secure Communities should be an efficient way to work with state and local law enforcement to reach the removal priorities that we have, those who are convicted of something," Johnson said on PBS' "NewsHour."

    "The program has become very controversial. And I told a group of sheriffs and chiefs that I met with a couple days ago that I thought we needed a fresh start."

    The program allows Immigration and Customs Enforcement officials to run fingerprints of anyone booked for a local or state crime through a federal database for immigration violations. If there's a match, ICE can ask local police and sheriffs to detain the person, and then decide whether to deport them.

    The program, which was started in 2008 under the Bush administration but has been expanded under Obama, has led to complaints that people are being deported for immigration violations without being convicted of any crime, or with only minor offenses. Police and sheriff's officials also complain people are afraid to interact with law enforcement and report crimes because they worry they'll be deported.

    States including California and local governments in Oregon and elsewhere have begun refusing to honor all detention requests, something that's increase in the wake of recent court rulings raising questions about the program.

    Many advocates, who have been holding hunger strikes and rallies to protest record-high deportations on Obama's watch, want Secure Communities eliminated entirely.

    "We're skeptical that this is going to be the meaningful change that the community is asking for," said Kamal Essaheb, an attorney at the National Immigration Law Center. "We don't want any changes around the edges. This is a program that's poisoned trust between police and immigrant communities."

    More than 150 civil and immigrant rights groups signed a letter to Johnson Friday urging him to end the use of immigrant detentions under Secure Communities.

    Changes to Secure Communities also would fall far short of the sweeping action advocates are pushing to expand a 2-year-old program that's allowed hundreds of thousands of immigrants brought illegally to the country as youths to stay and work here legally. Johnson said he was still reviewing that possibility, but he sounded a note of caution.

    "I would say that we have to be careful not to pre-empt Congress in certain areas," Johnson said.

    The Obama administration's focus on executive action has come with immigration legislation stuck in the GOP-led House 11 months after Senate passage of a far-reaching bill that included billions of dollars more for border security, new visa programs and a path to citizenship for many of the 11.5 million people now living here illegally.

    Republicans have warned that any executive action by Obama would destroy whatever chance remains to get their cooperation on immigration. Some see a narrow window for the House to act in the next couple of months, ahead of Congress' August recess and the November midterm elections.

    And some Republicans - who've criticized Secure Communities for deporting too few people, not too many - warn that Obama should not be taking steps to relax enforcement.

    "We must be strengthening - not weakening - the enforcement of our nation's immigration laws," said Stephen Miller, spokesman for Sen. Jeff Sessions, R-Ala.

    http://hosted.ap.org/dynamic/stories...05-16-04-19-05
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