Allies & immigrants organizing to defend our neighbors

Secure Communities is now a reality in 3 counties in Oregon – Clackamas, Marion, and Multnomah – and is scheduled to be implemented in a fourth this month – Washington County.  Secure Communities is a program run by Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) that makes it easier than ever for them to find and deport members of our communities – and a program that relies heavily on local cooperation.

It’s becoming clear that while local law enforcement’s priority may be public safety, the priority of ICE is to deport as many people as possible.  These two goals are at odds.  This constant threat of deportation causes huge insecurity in our communities of color, and it costs us over $20,000 for each person who is deported.  Is deporting members of our communities worth the human and financial cost?  Human Dignity activists in Bend and Lincoln think not… 

Deschutes County: In Central Oregon, Immigrant Family Advocates has been busy laying the groundwork to defend immigrants’ rights.  They’ve heard too many stories that describe the pain caused by ICE programs: a pregnant mother who was deported even though she came forward as the victim of a crime, a US citizen who was in a traffic accident with an undocumented driver who has no access to a drivers’ license and insurance.  Among their goals are pushing for a state ID available to all that could mitigate some of the damage done to the community when Governor Kulongowski signed away drivers licenses for undocumented people back in 2007.

The IFA knows their facts and how those facts are real stories about people in the community.  Through diligent research, they’ve determined that while deportation numbers are falling in Deschutes County, the percentage of people being deported that are charged with minor crimes is staying the same – right around 62%.  IFA is working hard so that our decisionmakers and the public will understand the simple truth: Police/ICE collaboration is hurting the community, families, and public safety for everybody.

In Lincoln County, the alliance between member groups Coastal Progressives and Centro de Ayuda continues to evolve. With the decline in raids and deportations locally, they are focusing on community education, shifting the culture of their community through events, movie nights, and a bi-monthly letter advocating for a welcoming community sent to the local paper.

The alliance has also allowed Centro de Ayuda to borrow power from community partners. Centro director Jorge outlines the fear of police as one of the major issues confronting the immigrant community right now. Through working in collaboration with dominant culture ally groups like Coastal Progressives, Centro is able to speak with authority when confronting the sheriff’s office and police department about cases of discrimination and profiling. And this makes all the difference. Jorge says: “Police officers now know that they are not above the law. When they see that there is a group of Anglo-American people that are aware of this situation, and fighting shoulder to shoulder with the Latino population, they realize we are better organized than they thought. They see that we are part of a movement, and it gives us more power – not that they fear us, but they respect us, and they change their behavior.”

As human dignity advocates, we have an opportunity now to reach out to our neighbors to learn about their experiences, and reach out to our sheriffs seeking common ground in our desire for a community safe for everybody.

In El Paso, Sheriff Wiles has implemented a system where only people who are reasonably accused of "Level 1" crimes have their information sent to ICE.  This means that people accused of minor crimes are handled locally, and potentially will not be as fearful that a minor traffic stop or that reporting a crime will make them the victim of deportation.

While many local police chiefs and sheriffs have expressed concern about ICE processes for deporting people, it has been unclear whether it is possible for local law enforcement to decline to participate in Secure Communities.  Recently though, ICE released a document on their website to challenge the notion that Secure Communities is a mandatory program.  This means that we have an enormous opportunity.  We have a chance to organize our local sheriff – and I’ll remind you that the sheriff is a democratically elected position here – to stand up for the good of our community.

If you are a citizen or legal resident – you have an amount of privilege and power that our undocumented brothers and sisters, neighbors and friends, do not have right now.  We are called to be allies in their struggle.  This is a good time for building communities that are resilient to assaults on human dignity – through building relationships across lines of race and culture.

Please contact Amanda if you’d like to discuss Secure Communities with your local law enforcement, or to talk about ideas for cross-cultural organizing.  ROP also maintains a listserv of rural and small-town activists and organizers that are working on this issue.  Contact to get on the list!

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What is Secure Communities?

Secure Communities is a database sharing system that alerts Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) directly when any person booked into a local jail is potentially undocumented.  A person is considered potentially undocumented usually when their country of origin is from outside of the United States

A few of the problems with Secure Communities:

 * It undermines community policing and breaks the trust communities have in police.   This makes people less likely to report crimes, and jeapordizes the safety of our towns.

 * It makes it easier for ICE to deport arrestees before they have been convicted or acquitted of a crime.  This denies people the right of due process, and their guilt or innocence is never decided.

 * The program misrepresents that it targets "criminal aliens" when in fact the majority of those identified under the program are people arrested for minor violations or people whose charges are ultimately dropped.