Recently, a national panel took place in Salinas’ City Hall Rotunda, addressing the issue of immigration enforcement. Thomas Saenz, general counsel and president of the Mexican American Legal Defense and Education, argued at the panel that rules requiring undocumented immigrants to be detained are not a mandate. Saenz argued that the requirements by U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement can be successfully challenged if residents wrote to their elected representatives asking for undocumented immigrants without criminal records to be released.
Saenz argued that the detention of undocumented immigrants with no criminal records is not mandatory, but rather discretionary. He noted that making the rules mandatory would expand the resources of the federal government and would have grave consequences for immigration enforcement. Since the rules about the detention of non-criminal undocumented immigrants is discretionary, Saenz told his audience at Salinas that communities and states can make their own decisions about what to do with undocumented immigrants.
Saenz was referring to the ICE’s Secure Communities program. Under that program, the fingerprints of anyone jailed and arrested must be shared by local authorities, even if the arrest is for a minor violation. If the ICE finds that the fingerprints belong to an undocumented immigrant, the ICE issues a detainer. This detainer asks that the person is detained for additional questioning. This program allows immigrants to be held and even deported, even for minor infractions and even if they have no prior criminal record.
Across the country, Monterey County has the largest percentage of immigrants without criminal records who are deported under the ICE’s Secure Communities program. This is why civil rights advocates chose Salinas as a location for their panel about the topic of immigration enforcement. According to Saenz and others, the ICE’s Secure Communities program is currently one of the biggest threats to civil rights because it was introduced very quickly without adequate checks as to who would be affected. As well, since the program has no oversight some civil rights leaders say that the program is open to abuse. Finally, many civil rights leaders point out that local authorities have raised concerns about the program – concerns that civil rights leaders say the federal government has ignored.
The panel at Salinas’ City Hall Rotunda was well attended by immigrants, immigration attorneys, and civil rights leaders. According to statistics available at the panel, ICE deported 400 000 people in 2011 alone. About 55% of these were convicted of serious crimes. Between August 2010 and August 2011, 53% of immigrants deported out of Monterey County did not have a criminal record.