Thursday, September 30, 2010

Immigration check program goes statewide in Texas

A federal program that automatically checks the immigration status of suspects booked into local lockups officially went statewide in Texas on Wednesday, two years after the nationwide crackdown began in Houston jails.

The rapidly expanding Secure Communities program, a fingerprint-sharing system run by Immigration and Customs Enforcement, was expanded to all 254 counties in Texas this week. It makes Texas the largest state in the nation to fully implement the program in every county.

Nationally there have been more than 41,000 deportations of illegal immigrants under the program, and nearly 40 percent of those occurred in Texas, according to ICE. Many Texas counties have had the program in place for months.

Since debuting in Harris County in October 2008, federal authorities swiftly installed the program across Texas without, apparently, the objections met elsewhere. Just this week in California, officials in Santa Clara County voted unanimously to abandon Secure Communities, saying it creates an atmosphere of fear in the community.

San Francisco has also indicated it wants out of the program. Colorado Gov. Bill Ritter's office was negotiating an agreement with the federal government last month that would make Colorado the first of 29 states to modify the program.

The program has also played into the Texas gubernatorial race, and Wednesday's announcement by ICE led Democratic candidate Bill White to have to tweak a campaign pledge. White listed helping local law enforcement adopt Secure Communities as part of his six-point border security plan unveiled this month, but with the program now officially statewide, his campaign changed the message to helping "implement" the program.

Critics say the program busies itself rounding up low-level criminals and discourages crime victims from coming forward, such as a domestic violence victims who won't call police for fear a spouse will be deported.

ICE spokesman Carl Rusnok said he was not aware of any Texas counties that have asked to be removed from the program or requested modifications.

In Travis County, sheriff's department spokesman Roger Wade said the community has supported it. "I don't see how it couldn't be smooth sailing," Wade said. "All we do is open up our database to (the federal government)."

Fingerprints of people booked into jails already are sent to state criminal justice departments to be checked against federal criminal databases. Under Secure Communities, they also go to Immigration and Customs Enforcement to run through Homeland Security databases.

ICE divides crimes into three categories, with Level 1 being the most serious. Level 1 crimes include actions that threaten or compromise national security, murder, rape, drug crimes punishable by more than one year, theft and even resisting arrest.

In Texas, more than 3,200 of those deported have been Level 1, according to ICE. For lower-level suspects identified in the program, Rusnok said "it's a resource issue" when it comes to deciding whether to pursue deportation. He said more than 709,000 people in Texas jails have been screened through the program since it debuted.

Texas counties are among the 659 local jurisdictions in 32 states enrolled in the program. President Barack Obama's administration wants Secure Communities operating nationwide by 2013.


Immigration to Australia drops somewhat but population growth still troublingly high

Australia's population growth has fallen to its slowest rate since 2007, after a sharp decline in migration levels continued into the first quarter of this year. According to the Bureau of Statistics, the nation was home to 22,272,000 people at the end of March, but the annual growth rate had slowed considerably to 1.8 per cent, from the 2.2 per cent record high of the previous year.

Although the election debate often centred on immigration, the figures, published yesterday, show that a key reason for the slowdown was a cooling in net migration, which was 37 per cent lower than a year earlier.

Some 241,400 people migrated to Australia over the year to March, but this was a far cry from the record of 320,300 in the previous year.

On the other hand, a domestic baby-boom has been gathering pace, with a record 303,500 babies born in the year to March, 3.1 per cent more than last year. With the number of deaths falling, this meant the rate of population natural increase - births minus deaths - was 7 per cent higher than a year earlier.

Overall, the annual growth in population remains well above its long-term average, prompting concerns about overstretched infrastructure.

An economist at CommSec, Savanth Sebastian, said such "phenomenal" growth was near the fastest in the developed world. "More people in Australia means greater demands for houses, roads, schools, hospitals and a raft of retail goods, and as such is providing much-needed stimulus in trying times for the global economy," he said.


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