Thursday, May 19, 2011

9-1-1 Call Lands Woman in Immigration Custody; ICE Later Rescinds Deportation (San Fernando Valley Sun)

9-1-1 Call Lands Woman in Immigration Custody; ICE Later Rescinds Deportation
Pro-immigrant Groups Denounces Case as Proof of the Problems Posed by Secure Communities Program

Written by Alex Garcia, Sun Contributing Writer
Thursday, 19 May 2011 04:53

On February 6, after three turbulent years of abuse and beatings at the hands of her boyfriend, Isaura Garcia found the courage to call the authorities and seek help. But the 911 call would end in an emergency for her.

"I still don't understand why I was arrested, but had I realized I could be arrested after calling 911 for help and deported, I never would have called," Garcia said. That day, her boyfriend Ricardo had thrown Garcia and her oneyear- old daughter out of their apartment in Hollywood.

Garcia, 20, said she returned to the home to retrieve her things while Ricardo was gone. But he showed up and "he started throwing things at me."

"Trying to protect myself, I scratched his neck," she recounted. She then called 911 and when police showed up, one of the agents began talking to her in Spanish.

But she said his partner yelled at her that she needed to speak English. Garcia can't speak English very well and had trouble making herself understood.

In the meantime, the police officers had put handcuffs on Ricardo, but after looking at his scratches and hearing his side of the story, they turned their attention to Garcia.

"They put the handcuffs on him, but then they took them off and put them on me," she said. Startled that the officers were arresting her, Garcia fainted. The police officers took her to the hospital where a doctor found bruises on her body and identified her as a victim of domestic violence. But still, she was arrested on domestic violence charges.


After her arrest, Garcia ended up in the Los Angeles County jail where the Secure Communities program is in operation. This program requires local authorities to share the fingerprints of arrestees with immigration authorities.

Those found to be in the country illegally, like Garcia, are referred to Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE).

The domestic violence charges against Garcia were dropped and her boyfriend tried to post bail for her, but by then an immigration hold had been placed on her.

Before she knew it, Garcia was sent to an immigration detention center in Santa Ana, where she spent the next week.

She was only allowed out after an ankle monitor was placed on her.

Ricardo was arrested a month later, following a fatal accident while driving under the influence and Garcia was under deportation proceedings.

"Secure Communities changed my life completely," Garcia said during a press conference last week at the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) headquarters in Los Angeles, where representatives of that group and other pro-immigrant associations denounced this program. "The federal government is selling us Secure Communities as a way to safeguard our communities by focusing on serious criminals, but nothing could be further from the truth," said Southern California ACLU executive director Hector Villagra.

"Under the program, fingerprints of those arrested or detained in the County jails are sent to ICE even before people are convicted or not."

Villagra added Secure Communities "threatens to destroy the trust police departments have developed over the years. It is particularly worrisome for victims of domestic violence when the police can't determine who is the aggressor and who is the victim."

For Angelica Salas, executive director of the Coalition for Humane Immigrant Rights of Los Angeles (CHIRLA), Garcia's arrest is indelible proof of the dangers of "this destructive program."

"This program [Secure Communities] is endangering the public safety, not only in the immigration community, but the entire nation," she said.

"This arrest completely undermines the notion that this program focuses on the worst of the worst. With this program, Special Order 40 [an LAPD directive that prevents police officers from initiating contact with a person based on that individual's immigration status], becomes irrelevant. This program, Secure Communities, has to stop."

Secure Communities has come under heavy scrutiny recently. On May 4, the State of Illinois announced its desire to opt-out of the program completely, and on May 5, the U.S. Congressional Hispanic Caucus called for an immediate freeze of the program. Also on May 5, San Francisco Sheriff Michael Hennessy announced that he would not turn over non-criminals and lowlevel offenders to immigration authorities identified through Secure Communities.

Those who oppose Secure Communities say that although the program purports to identify serious criminals, in practice it identifies anyone booked into police custody, including crime victims and non-criminals, for transfer to immigration authorities.

Recently released ICE statistics for the period between October 2008 and February 2011 show that 62 percent of people deported under Secure Communities, following referral to immigration authorities from Los Angeles jails are either non-criminals or lowlevel offenders; 23 percent of those removed had no criminal record whatsoever.

Currently before the California State Assembly is a bill – the TRUST Act (AB 1081). It would protect victims of crimes from being swept into deportation proceedings by Secure Communities.

The bill, introduced by Assemblymember Tom Ammiano (San Francisco) and co-sponsored by, among others, Assemblymember Gil Cedillo (Los Angeles), would be heard by the Assembly Appropriations Committee this week. A vote in Committee is expected by the end of this month.


A few hours after the press conference held at the ACLU offices, ICE stopped Garcia's deportation proceedings.

"After a comprehensive review of Ms. Garcia's immigration case, U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) intends to ask the immigration court to terminate the removal proceedings against her. This action conforms with the policy ICE is in the process of finalizing that would guide how the agency uses its prosecutorial discretion in removal cases involving the victims and witnesses of crime, including domestic violence," an ICE press release stated.

The ACLU commended ICE for its decision, although it still questioned the Secure Communities program.

"We applaud ICE's decision to seek termination of the removal proceedings against Isaura Garcia, a domestic violence victim, identified through the Secure Communities program for removal," Villagra said. "Isaura should never have been placed in deportation proceedings as a result of her call to 911; ICE's commitment to terminate her case recognizes that fact.

"We remain concerned, however, about the many other women like Isaura who are victims of crimes but swept up in the deportation dragnet of Secure Communities. We hope that ICE will take meaningful steps to ensure that Secure Communities will be limited to its stated purpose of removing dangerous criminals, not people, like Isaura, who are victims of crime."

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