Activists Walk Out, Demand End To ‘Secure Communities’ Program

Groups call task force hearing a “smoke screen.”

By Gloria Angelina Castillo, EGP Staff Writer

For four years, 20-year-old Isaura Garcia was the victim of domestic violence at the hand of her ex-boyfriend, and father of her one-year-old daughter. When she finally gathered the courage to call the police for help, it was a nightmare beyond her imagination.

“Instead of helping me, they put me on track for deportation. If I would have known that, I never would have called,” Garcia said.

Ana Menjivar testified saying she and dozens of co-workers were arrested during a worksite raid aimed at her employer. Far left, Rigoberto Barboza and his little brother wait for their turn to speak. EGP Photo by Gloria Angelina Castillo

Ice cream vendor Adan Espinoza was arrested for illegal street vending, and says while in custody he was pressured to sign a voluntary deportation order. The South Gate resident refused to sign, but other vendors did and were deported.

“There are [real] criminals walking around freely, and hard working people are being arrested,” Espinoza said.

Garcia and Espinoza received help from Coalition for Humane Immigrant Rights of Los Angeles (CHIRLA), but Rigoberto Barboza’s mother wasn’t as lucky. She was deported and his younger siblings, who are citizens, were put into foster care.

Read this story IN SPANISH:  Activistas Piden la Terminación del Programa ‘Comunidades Seguras’

These personal stories are part of the public testimony given Monday during a rally opposing the federal Secure Communities (S-Comm) program, and a federal task force hearing held later in the day on the same topic.

CHIRLA, and numerous other local organizations denounced S-Comm during the tasks force hearing, on the grounds that too many people have been unfairly caught up in the program that requires police to submit fingerprints of arrestees to federal immigration officials, even if they have not been charged or convicted of a serious crime.

Secure Communities does not target and deport the worst criminals, as it is billed, said Angelica Salas, executive director of CHIRLA. She said it has become increasingly clear that saying the program is meant to target the worst criminals is “just a smoke screen for achieving record numbers of deportations.”

For years, activists and law enforcement officials in Southern California have worked hard to improve relations between law enforcement and immigrant communities, now “we’re seeing all that hard work destroyed,” she said.

For 32 years the Los Angeles Police Department has operated under Special Order 40, which prohibits officers from initiating contact with someone based on inquiring about the person’s immigration status. Special Order 40 was adopted to gain the trust of undocumented crime victims and witnesses by law enforcement, but organizers say it is now dead and read its eulogy during the meeting held at St. Anne’s Residential Facility located near MacArthur Park.

Federal officials originally said the Secure Communities program was optional, but  “The Department of Homeland Security just recently rescinded—about a week ago—the memorandum of understanding it had with states and localities and basically said, ‘we don’t care what you think, we don’t care if you don’t want to participate in this program, it is mandatory,’” said Marielena Hincapié, executive director of the National Immigration Law Center.

ICE is wasting tax dollars flying the Task Force on Secure Communities around the country to hold sham hearings, Hincapié said. She said the only recommendation they need is to end the program.

Immigration lawyers said the law is convoluted, others noted family separation is a risk factor for future criminality.

About 200 people walked-out of the S-Comm Task Force meeting and rallied outside. (EGP photo by Gloria Angelina Castillo)


The venue for Monday’s hearing was changed four times and there was very little publicity for it, leaving some to question if the task force really wanted input from the public.

“We believe the whole process to be a sham and a distraction… ICE and DSH would prefer that only a few people show up and they have been disingenuous in calling this a community hearing. They don’t seem to care what happens at these hearings. They are doing it to later say we responded and they still didn’t like it,” CHIRLA spokesperson Jorge-Mario Cabrera told EGP in an email.

The task force’s 21 members include law enforcement, immigration lawyers and community advocates. Two of the task force members, Arturo Venegas Jr., a retired Sacramento police chief, and Sister Rosemary Welsh of Laredo, TX attended Monday night’s meeting and sat at a table between two DHS employees.

A ruckus broke out when it was realized that automatic translation services were not available, and Venegas asked that Spanish speaker’s testimonies not be translated to English in order to save time, and since he and Sister Welsh are both bilingual.

Several elected officials also sent representatives to deliver messages to the task force.

Anna Pembedjian, public safety deputy for Los Angeles County Supervisor Michael Antonovich, said “LA County Mayor Antonovich” supports Secure Communities.

“Secure Communities does not weed out hard working, law abiding immigrants for removal, rather, it seeks out those who prey on them and others in our county,” she said.

An aide to Los Angeles Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa said the mayor wants to see the program eliminated.

A shouting match erupted when Mario Beltran, a former Bell Gardens city councilman convicted of wrongdoing, attempted to deliver a message from his boss, state Sen. Gil Cedillo, that he does not support the program.

Julio Giron, EGP Photo by Gloria Angelina Castillo


Bell Gardens resident Julio Giron interrupted Beltran several times, shouting about Beltran’s past. When it was his time to speak, community members interrupted Giron.

“Bell Gardens is a 2.5 square mile [city] with almost 60,000 people and 60 percent are undocumented immigrants…that is not secure, that is very unsafe,” Giron said.

Giron said he supports a crack down on the employers of undocumented immigrants.

Halfway into the meeting, protesters abruptly demanded the task force members resign, than staged a walkout. The meeting went on without them.

Venegas said they would not resign because the task force would make recommendations with or without them.

“We have the opportunity to give you all a voice, and that’s not an opportunity government has always allowed in the past. And if we left right now, the work will continue and recommendations will be given without our [Latino voice]. And I’m from Jalisco and as they say “los Jaliscienses no se rajan” (people from Jalisco don’t back down), and I will stay until I think I have amplified the last voice of persons who have no voice.”

The task force members are holding similar meetings throughout the county; they’re anticipated to give their recommendation to the DHS at the end of September.

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August 18, 2011  Copyright © 2012 Eastern Group Publications, Inc.


One Response to “Activists Walk Out, Demand End To ‘Secure Communities’ Program”

  1. A Legal American on August 18th, 2011 12:38 pm

    Illegals will whine and cry at any type of immigration enforcement. They seem to think they are exempt from abiding by our laws. If your illegal then you have every right to be deported when found. ICE better not back down on S-Comm as legal Americans want the illegals deported, along with their anchor babies.

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