Sunday, April 22, 2012

TX: Sheriff just doing  his job comes under fire

In thousands of local jails and prisons across the country, federal agents use computer databases to look for possible undocumented immigrants, then file what's known as a detainer a document requesting that local authorities notify Immigration and Customs Enforcement before releasing an alleged immigrant and delay his or her release for up to 48 hours so ICE agents can take custody of them.

In Travis County, where an average of almost three undocumented immigrants have been deported every day since 2009, making it one of the busiest deportation sites in the country, Sheriff Greg Hamilton has said federal regulations require him to comply with those detainers.

But Hamilton has recently come under increasing pressure from critics, including his opponent in the Democratic primary, who contend the detainers aren't mandatory and urge the sheriff to follow the lead of a growing number of other urban areas that have stopped automatically honoring all of them, reducing the number of deportations. Federal officials and Austin's police chief both warn that such a move would come with potentially serious public safety risks.

Austin's Human Rights Commission last month passed a joint resolution with the city's Commission on Immigrant Affairs, urging the Austin City Council to publicly condemn the federal Secure Communities program — the computer information-sharing system that helps ICE agents decide whom to "flag" for possible deportation — and to oppose the jail's "continued honoring of every ‘hold' request."

The March 26 resolution by the two advisory panels claims that Secure Communities has led to the detention and deportation of "thousands of productive Austin residents," wastes taxpayer money by keeping immigrants locked up for longer periods and "creates the perception that all Travis County law enforcement agencies are engaging in immigration enforcement" that makes immigrants less likely to report crimes.

Rebecca Bernhardt, a detainer opponent and policy consultant for the Texas Criminal Justice Coalition, a nonprofit group that advocates for criminal justice reforms, said ICE's operations in the jail "discourages a huge section of our population from interacting with law enforcement, which makes all of us less safe."

The American-Statesman reported last month that Travis County ranks 11th nationally in the number of people deported from its jails since Secure Communities came online here in June 2009. Even though ICE says the program prioritizes dangerous criminals, national security threats and repeat immigration law violators, the paper found that more than 1,000 people in Travis County have had detainers placed on them after arrests for traffic violations and other Class C misdemeanors — offenses that typically result in only a fine.

Hamilton has asked County Attorney David Escamilla for legal advice about whether immigration detainers are mandatory or voluntary, Escamilla said Thursday. Hamilton hasn't said whether he's considering changing his department's approach to detainers.

The sheriff is far from alone: The vast majority of the nearly 2,600 counties and other local jurisdictions where Secure Communities has been activated also routinely honor immigration detainers, which take effect after an immigrant's criminal case is resolved or when the person is set to be released on bail. The government plans to have the program in every U.S. county by next year.

The campaign to persuade Hamilton to change his policy focuses on a small but increasing number of urban areas — including New York, Chicago and San Francisco — that have decided to set their own policies to determine which inmates they will hold for ICE and which detainer requests they'll ignore.

Like Austin, they are cities where local officials have adopted policies barring law enforcement officers from asking about a person's immigration status, in hopes of gaining the trust and cooperation of immigrants in fighting crime.

Officials in those cities say the perception that local police are aiding federal agents undercuts that trust. And they have cited a host of other concerns behind their decision: the deportation of people charged with traffic offenses and other low-level crimes, the cost of housing inmates for longer periods and questions about whether local police are being directly or indirectly used to help enforce federal law, which raises constitutional issues.


Canada slowly upping the pressure on less desirable immigrants

Ottawa could require evidence of French, English language skills

Immigrants hoping to become Canadian citizens may soon have to provide written proof of their language abilities.  Immigration Minister Jason Kenney said Friday his latest reform is aimed at requiring citizenship applicants to prove they can speak English or French.

"I’ve met a lot of Canadian citizens who have lived here for many years who can’t express themselves in French or English," Kenney said during a speech Friday to the Montreal Council on Foreign Relations.  "It’s not acceptable because it limits their social mobility and their life in Canada."

Kenney announced a change to citizenship rules which would require prospective Canadian citizens to provide what’s called objective evidence of their language ability with their application.

Expanding on language changes he’s already announced for some immigration applicants, Kenney said people will also have to provide new documents to become Canadian citizens.

They will be asked to submit evidence they completed secondary or post-secondary education in English or French; they could also provide results of approved third-party tests, or proof of success in government-funded language training programs.

Kenney explained he wanted the linguistic proof to "ensure that all of those who join us as full members of our Canadian family in the future are able to fully participate in our society."

Adequate knowledge of English or French has already been a requirement since the first Citizenship Act of 1947 — but these new mechanisms are meant to enforce that requirement.  The government also provides language training free of charge to permanent residents.


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