Immigrant rights attorney Francisco Ugarte, who works for SFILEN, just talked to me about why it’s critical that folks raise their concerns about immigrant rights with their elected officials in the face of Secure Communities, a program ICE is planning to bring to San Francisco June 1, and to all U.S. jails by 2013, without the openness and transparency that we have come to expect under the Obama administration.
“There’s a rise in xenophobia and the economy is going down, so this is the time when people should be speaking up for immigrants,” Ugarte said. “ICE is among the least transparent governmental agency in the U.S. It’s hard enough for lawyers to get information about their clients, let alone a member of the public who is trying to get information about an ICE program like Secure Communities.”
Ugarte notes that ICE’s own MOA (Memorandum of Agreement) with individual states prohibits them from providing information about Secure Communities to the media, without first getting the consent of ICE.
“ICE needs to be asked, whose confidentiality are you protecting, your own, or that of the members of the public that are being detained under this program?” Ugarte said.
He believes ICE is being so secretive because it doesn’t want to tell the stories of deportations and trauma that have created in the local community.
I asked Ugarte if he’d support the idea of a national I.D. card, based on the premise that if ICE is going to fingerprint and I.D. everyone anyways, then why not parlay this into giving folks who aren't found guilty of a felony some kind of I.D. Card as a first step towards amnesty? (Provided folks aren’t found guilty of a felon, in which case ICE would deport them.)
“I’m not sure if we can support a national I.D. card,” Ugarte said. ‘The point is that ICE is intent on removing folks who they deem ‘dangerous,’ but they are not offering any relief for the millions of people who work hard and pay taxes yet remain second-class citizens. We need some kind of commensurate relief.”
Ugarte worries that a national I.D. card program would allow the federal government to become an even bigger Big Brother.
“But it’s crystal clear that there has to be some relief provided for the millions who have worked hard and contributed to their communities,” Ugarte said.
He noted that ICE deported 400,000 folks last year alone.
‘That’s more folks than in any of the Bush administration’s years,” he said. “This is affecting us directly. We did not elect Obama to destroy our community.”
Ugarte said that he doesn't believe that Obama is controlling ICE, but that he should start doing so now.
“Obama needs to assert more control. He has the power through executive order to stop the deportation of people who have U.S. citizens in their families. He has the power to reform the system to prevent the destruction of people who live here. Right now, we’re seeing enforcement only, and it’s creating a human rights crisis.”
And Ugarte has not given up on the notion that San Francisco can opt out of Secure Communities, no matter what AG (and gubernatorial candidate) Jerry Brown says.
“Right now, it appears that the Department of Justice is resisting the opt-out idea from San Francisco, but the Attorney General did not cite any legal authority in his letter," Ugarte observed. "All he said was based on policy reasons, in contrast to San Francisco Sheriff Mike Hennessey’s concerns, which were based on the impact of the program on public safety.”
Summing up Jerry Brown’s missive as a “political letter,” Ugarte says folks need to double their efforts to ensure that folks in Sacramento understand the implications of local police-ICE collaborations and their similarities to Arizona’s immigration law.
“We need to ensure that our voices are heard. Three people in D. C. and three people in Sacramento should not be dictating policy for millions.”