File photo of a Secure Communities protest on August 17, 2011. (Photo Courtesy/ Flickr Sierra Romeo)

Mayor of Chicago latest to oppose federal immigration policy

The Mayor of Chicago, Rahm Emanuel, has proposed a “Welcoming City” ordinance which would prohibit local police officers from turning over to federal agents any undocumented immigrants who have no outstanding criminal warrants or serious criminal convictions. Chicago becomes the latest city to push back against a federal program meant to identify – and deport – immigrants who are a threat or have serious criminal records, but which has come under fire by several communities and police departments as well as Latino groups.

“If you’re a good citizen, immigration status is not a pause button for you to call the police department,” said Emanuel, who was President Barack Obama‘s Chief of Staff before resigning to run for Mayor of Chicago. Emanuel and other Chicago officials said it is important for immigrants to trust and cooperate with police.   Emanuel also told immigrants, “We want to welcome you to the city of Chicago,” and said he wanted to make the city the most immigrant-friendly in the country.

There is a catch. If this “sanctuary” ordinance is passed later this month, it goes against the federal Secure Communities program, whose implementation has been controversial in many cities across the country. Under Secure Communities, local law enforcement officials share the fingerprints of people they book with federal immigration agents.

Immigration Customs Enforcement (ICE) Director John Morton said yesterday in front a House subcommittee that Secure Communities is a direct way to protect the public, and it is lawful. “Remember, the only way you get identified by Secure Communities is to have been arrested in the first place for a crime,” said Morton.

A number of Latino organizations, as well as Latino leaders dispute this assertion.

“On the ground, S-Comm (Secure Communities) has proven to be a seriously flawed dragnet that promotes racial profiling,” said Angelica Salas, executive director of the Coalition for Humane Immigrant Rights of Los Angeles (CHIRLA), in a recent statement. Salas adds that “far from targeting the ‘worst of the worst,’ the S-Comm catches anyone who happens to fit into ICE’s amorphously defined ‘priorities.'”

This view is shared by many communities across the country. In Washington D.C., the City Council approved a bill that will limit the amount of time and the circumstances in which local law enforcement can detain someone at the request of ICE officials or agents. California legislators recently passed the Trust Act, which prohibits local law enforcement from holding a person unless there were previous serious criminal convictions.

ICE Director John Morton said Chicago’s proposed ordinance could result in an increase in crime. Currently, Chicago is facing a steep increase in homicides and gang violence.

But María B. Vélez, a criminologist and sociologist at the University of New Mexico, says research actually supports the actions of Chicago’s Mayor Emanuel.

“We have found an increase in immigration is related to a reduction in neighborhood violence,” says Vélez. “We also find there is an enhanced or ‘protective effect’ in the reduction of crime in cities which have a more welcoming and open attitude toward immigrants,” she added.

Vélez explains that cities that build strategies to engage immigrant or marginalized groups, such as increased community policing and more minorities in the police force and other local offices, leads to what sociologists call a ‘spiral of trust.’

“Rahm Emanuel is doing exactly what he should be doing,” says Vélez.

Illinois Congressman Luis Gutiérrez said there is another reason why he supports the law.  “It targets police resources on criminals- and it minimizes the amount of city resources on holding non-criminals because they were flagged in a federal data base,” Gutiérrez said.

A coalition of groups have created Restoring Trust, which advocates for what they call detainer discretion when local law enforcement is asked by ICE to voluntarily hold an individual for a 48-hour period before being transferred to an ICE facility.

ICE Director John Morton said he is considering legal options against Chicago. Forty-eight states – all except Alabama and Illinois – have implemented Secure Communities in all of their cities.

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