Tuesday, August 23, 2011

Arlington hearing on deportations attracts protestors (Washington Examiner)

Arlington hearing on deportations attracts protestors
By: Liz Essley | Examiner Staff Writer | 08/23/11 8:05 PM

Hispanics and immigration advocates plan to swarm to Arlington Wednesday to protest a federal law requiring local police to check the immigration status of those they detain and to turn any criminals over to the Department of Homeland Security for deportation.

The protestors intend to gather at a DHS hearing on the controversial program, known as Secure Communities, which has drawn similar demonstrations around the country because it has led to the deportation of many Hispanics who are not the violent felons the program is supposed to target.

While supporters say Secure Communities is essential to a working immigration policy, critics have attacked the program for scaring immigrant communities, saying people who have committed only minor traffic infractions are being deported along with convicted felons.

"Secure Communities uses taxpayer dollars to essentially widen the deportation dragnet to be able to catch individuals who pose no threat to public safety," said Gustavo Andrade of Casa de Maryland, an advocacy organization that will have representatives testifying at the meeting while others protest it outside.

President Obama announced earlier this month he would review 300,000 deportation cases and allow those illegal immigrants who don't have criminal records to stay. But Hispanic groups and immigration advocates say that's not enough, and are pushing to do away with Secure Communities.

"I would like to hear concrete evidence that in my case I will not be deported," said Maria Bolanos, 28, of Hyattsville, who faces deportation after Prince George's police referred her case to DHS. She plans to testify at the hearing.

Arlington County leaders asked Immigration and Customs Enforcement if they could opt out of the program last year only to be told by federal authorities that participation was mandatory for all localities.

"This at a minimum has been a communication disaster for ICE," said county board member Walter Tejada. "They have given conflicting statement after conflicting statement, and that has not helped us at all."

The DHS task force conducting the hearing at George Mason University's Founders Hall between 6 p.m. and 8 p.m. held similar meetings in Dallas, Los Angeles and Chicago. In Chicago, 10 protesters were arrested after about 200 walked out of the hearing chanting, "Terminate the program! No more lies," according to a Chicago Sun-Times report.

Activists said they thought the public input meetings were only a formality for DHS and would not stop the DHS from going forward with the program.

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