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Warning: ICE Fishing Dragnet in Effect

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With the one-year anniversary of the signing of Arizona's racial profiling law SB 1070 behind us, the community's attention is squarely focused on the White House. But we are not the only ones beginning to ask the administration to reevaluate its misguided approach. Throughout May and June, Congressman Luis Gutierrez' Change Takes Courage tour began its longest leg here in California, and Representative Gutierrez (D-Illinois) has been joined by thousands of community members across the Golden State asking for the president to use his executive powers to freeze ICE's deportations.

Up in our state capital Sacramento, Assemblymember Tom Ammiano (D-San Francisco) has introduced AB 1081, a bill that would help our cities and counties be less complicit in deporting its own citizens.

Further south in California: the Los Angeles City Council has just passed a resolution condemning ICE's efforts, Chief Beck of the LAPD has been openly critical about the effects on public safety and several Members of the Los Angeles Congressional Delegation have openly called for Governor Brown to suspend California's participation in ICE's Frankensteinian and shattered crown jewel program.

And in Washington DC, Representative Zoe Lofgren (D-San Jose) and Senator Robert Menendez (D-New Jersey) have openly called for an investigation into why ICE's crown jewel immigration enforcement program has been forced on places that do not want it and why this program is netting community members rather than threats to public safety.

We have been marching in the millions, and in return a million immigrants will soon have been deported by Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE). In this post, I try to explain how this nightmare Alice in Wonderland scenario is occurring under President Obama's watch through the use of two specific programs: "Secure Communities" and 287(g) Agreements.

The premise of the administration's effort is that it is not targeting immigrants per se, but rather only threats to public safety and the "worst of the worst." ICE's oft-ballyhooed "enforcement priorities" can seemingly be ignored with impunity by their officers on the ground and as such appear to be little more than a smokescreen. Regardless of intent, given who is really affected this approach falls flat on its face. Worse, it does so while implicitly linking crime and immigration, perverting the best intentions of some police and sheriff departments in the process.

This connection between immigration and crime is a spurious one -- a canard we usually hear from the Republican Party. However, serious research refutes any such connection, showing both that immigrants are less likely to commit crime and that many of the "crimes" are ones of poverty, and there linked to socio-economic rather than immigration status. No matter, ICE's infiltration and involvement of local law enforcement and ceaseless talk about "criminal aliens" is contributing to the spread of this tired mythology.

Sure, as with the broader population, some documented and some undocumented immigrants are serious criminals, but by all accounts the overwhelming majority is constituted by members of our communities: workers, mothers, fathers, brothers, sisters, friends and colleagues. The difference for immigrants, both documented and undocumented, is that arrest even without imprisonment can lead to the ultimate sanction -- being taken away from your loved ones and community through the civil punishment called deportation.

ICE Raids, despite changes by the Obama administration, continue to terrorize those caught up in them. But the main threat to community cohesion is the sweeping expansion of the DHS-ICE programs that require cooperation from local law enforcement. Yes, the same police departments charged with providing public safety through community policing are now becoming increasingly entangled in ICE's efforts to pad their deportation numbers.

While there are surely many rogue police officers, and even whole agencies such as the Maricopa County Sheriff's Department, who wish to act as ICE agents, it is our belief that most do not. In fact, here in Los Angeles, the heads of our two largest agencies, Los Angeles Police Chief Charlie Beck and Los Angeles County Sheriff Lee Baca, are on the record saying just that. The question then becomes: if these are the LAPD and LASD's intentions and policies, why are the outcomes -- in the form of thousands of deportations following contact with the local police -- so disparate? Enter the Orwellian-named 287(g), Secure Communities and Criminal Alien Programs among other DHS-ICE efforts. All of these ostensibly target "serious criminals," yet all of them wind up netting low-level offenders, non-criminals and those unlucky enough to show up for work one day.

Let's start with the formerly popular and now widely discredited 287(g) program. Upon signing a agreement with ICE, a local law enforcement agency can have some of its patrol officers or jail staff receive training in immigration enforcement. In effect, these locals become deputized federal immigration agents. While the 287(g) programs only exist in some 70 jurisdictions nationwide, some of these happen to be among the largest such as Los Angeles and Maricopa counties -- others are in areas where racial profiling is a serious issue such as Georgia, North Carolina and Virginia.

One day in February, Blanca was selling ice cream in Van Nuys, California. Some LAPD officers saw her and decided to cite her for illegal vending -- as she had no ID on her, she was instead arrested. After her public defender advised her to plead guilty she began to serve her two-day suspended sentence in the LA County jail. At this stage, she was interviewed by one of the 287(g) Sheriff's officers and it was determined that she was undocumented. ICE was alerted and this mother of a US citizen is now awaiting deportation proceedings -- she is not imprisoned and is wearing an electronic monitoring ankle bracelet.

It did not matter that the LAPD operates under Special Order 40 - prohibiting it officers from investigating immigration status -- as she was moved from the LAPD's City Jail to the Sheriff's County jail. Nor did it matter that LA County's 287(g) agreement uniquely demands that only convicted individuals be subject to immigration interviews, Blanca was convicted -- of selling ice cream.

Next up, the extremely inappropriately named "Secure Communities" (S-Comm) program, which is causing much concern here in California. Consider this a 2.0 version of the 287(g) -- it is technology-based and does not require any immigration training for police officers. Instead, digital fingerprinting under the standard booking process has been turned into a de facto immigration check. Moreover, unlike its sibling 287(g), it circumvents any local decision-making processes, and as such neither our city council nor board of supervisors has signed off on its use by all local law enforcement agencies in the County as well as the rest of the Golden State.

Also in February of this year, Iris had enough of the domestic abuse her partner was inflicting upon her. She dialed 911 and the LAPD promptly arrived. As Iris is primarily a Spanish language speaker, her English-speaking tormenter somehow convinced the officers that she was the abuser. Thus, Iris was arrested and when her fingerprints were scanned in the LAPD jail, S-Comm alerted ICE to her presence. Iris has been deported once before and thus she, unlike Blanca, was in the DHS databases. And unlike Blanca, the absurd charges against Iris were dropped. No matter, this young mother was released into ICE's clutches and is currently awaiting deportation proceedings as she walks around with an electronic monitoring ankle bracelet.

Finally, we have the all-pervasive Criminal Alien Program (CAP), which exists mainly in all state and federal jails. However, ICE is also busy trying to expand it to local facilities in an overzealous attempt to mend the holes of its 287(g) and S-Comm dragnet. By placing actual ICE agents in the jails, or linking them via video-conferencing technology to the inmate population, ICE can interview individuals who have no access to lawyers or that may be incarcerated pre-trial or for minor offenses. And despite the name, over 50% of individuals identified via CAP are not "criminals," that is, they were never convicted of the crime they were arrested for and they do not have a criminal history.

The best of intentions by local law enforcement -- and we are well aware that racial profiling stills occurs here in Los Angeles and elsewhere, these ICE programs can incentivize this odious practice -- were undermined in these cases. If that is true in a city and county like Los Angeles, generally considered friendly to immigrants, imagine the effects elsewhere. Actually, we do not have to imagine: we are approaching the million deported number and many of these were initially arrested on minor charges.

We have to ask ourselves: what is being done to our communities?

This deportation regime risks destroying the Los Angeles and California economies, while a generation of children's development risks being permanently stunted due to the fear their parents experience. This look at how our communities are being depleted through deportation is only one part of the pressure cooker equation we face. On the other side, we are being targeted at our workplaces, at the very place where our labor helps strengthen the American economy and where we make our livelihoods to support our families.

Carl Bergquist, CHIRLA Policy Advocate contributed to this story.