Immigration Officials Still Can’t Make Up Their Minds

Officials keep telling different sides of the same story.

By Seth Freed Wessler Nov 22, 2010

Last week, Deportation Nation reported the story of Maria Bolanos, a resident of Maryland, who was hit with a deportation order by ICE after calling local police to report domestic violence. Bolanos, whose deportation was postponed and now wears a tracking device around her ankle, stood up during a panel presentation in D.C. last week to ask David Venturella, the assistant director of Secure Communities, whether her deportation order had anything to do with the controversial program. Venturella’s answer was a clear. "You were not a Secure Communities referral or hit…I’m going to be adamant that you do not fall under that program."

But that was not true. Just hours after Venturella’s statement, ICE spokesman Brian Hale e-mailed Washington Post reporter Shankar Vedantam: "To clarify this situation, Ms. Bolanos was in fact encountered through Secure Communities."

The lie was just the latest in a long list of government obfuscations about the deportation program, mainly about whether or not local governments have the right to opt out of it.

As I reported earlier this month:

Secure Communities, the Obama administration’s signature deportation program which checks the immigration status of anyone booked into local jails, has been mired in confusion for months now. In September, Secretary of Homeland Security Janet Napolitano confirmed that localities can decide to opt out. But in October, her office did a 180, announcing that only states can determine whether to opt out of the program and that once a state has signed on, municipalities will be forced to participate.

Federal officials purport that Secure Communities targets immigrants with serious criminal convictions. But data released by the federal government shows that the program is doing precisely the opposite. The vast majority of those rounded up, detained, and deported by the program were convicted of no crimes, or of some minor violations like a traffic stops. Local police are also concerned that the program will diminish trust between cops and communities, and endanger community policing efforts by discouraging immigrants from reporting crimes.

Bolanos’ story is a clear sign that the program is not working and is putting people at risk who are not intended to its targets. Yet Secure Communities is expanding rapidly and the Obama administration has vowed to implement it nation wide by 2013.