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U.S. Immigration Agency Vows to Reform Deportation Program

Posted on June 20, 2011
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The U.S. immigration agency pledged Friday to reform a deportation program so that only those who pose serious threat to public safety will be deported.

A committee comprised of local police chiefs, sheriffs, prosecutors and others will be formed to provide advice on how to ensure the Secure Communities program, or S-Comm, works better, Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) Director John Morton wrote in a memo to the agency’s field directors and agents.

The reform also calls for curbing a negative side-effect of the S-Comm, that crime victims or witnesses might be afraid to report crimes for fear of being deported, he said.

“ICE officers, special agents, and attorneys should exercise all appropriate prosecutorial discretion to minimize any effect that immigration enforcement may have on the willingness and ability of victims, witnesses and plaintiffs to call police and pursue justice,” Morton said.

The memo was publicized one week after several Congress members from California, along with Los Angeles city officials, sent a letter to California Governor Jerry Brown, urging him to have California opt out of the program.

The letter claims the Homeland Security Department which oversees the ICE, has violated the legal contract with local governments by deporting non-violent criminals, many of them were never charged.

The program, created in 2008, requires police to submit fingerprints of arrested people to federal immigration agencies so they can be cross-checked with federal deportation orders.

More than half of people deported from Los Angeles County through S-Comm were not convicted of committing a crime, according to statistics from ICE.

A report by Los Angeles’ chief legislative analyst found that nearly 70 percent of people deported under S-Comm either had no convictions or were accused of minor offenses.

Legislation for California to withdraw has passed the state Assembly and is awaiting a vote in the Senate.

If Brown accepts the advice to opt out, he will be joining the governors of New York and Illinois who recently removed their states from the program. Washington, Pennsylvania, Massachusetts and Washington, D.C., chose to stay out of the program from the beginning.

Despite the ICE’s reform pledge, immigrants rights groups are still skeptical and called the reform “cosmetic.”

Angelica Salas, executive director of the Coalition for Humane Immigrants Rights Los Angeles, said she welcomed more prosecutorial discretion but added that the reforms don’t get to the heart of the problem.

“With the utter invisibility of any comprehensive immigration reform on the horizon, mere tweaks to the deportation machine are worse than insufficient,” Salas said.

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