Secure Communities bill passes House committee

Secure Communities bill passes House committee

A bill compelling local governments in Colorado to comply with the controversial federal Secure Communities program passed its first hurdle today on a 7-4 committee vote, with Rep. John Soper, D-Thornton, being the lone Democrat voting in favor of the bill.

The bill, sponsored by Rep. David Balmer, R-Centennial, would take away state local government grants from those governments choosing not to comply with the ICE program.

Former Gov. Bill Ritter signed the memorandum of agreement in January with Department of Homeland Security’s Immigration and Customs Enforcement office to bring Secure Communities to Colorado. The federal program will run fingerprints of all individuals arrested against ICE records and will automatically inform the law enforcement agency and ICE of the individual’s immigration status if it is known by the agency.

The program is designed to target criminal illegal aliens first, but does extend to those who have not committed previous crimes beyond being in the country illegally.

“These are convicted criminals; these are not just people who have been arrested for a crime,” Balmer said.

Hans Meyer, political director for the Colorado Immigrant Rights Coalition, disagreed with Balmer’s assertion and said that in communities in the program now, 80 percent of the people involved had not committed serious crimes and that all fingerprints of those arrested would be checked against ICE records.

Balmer said local governments today can choose not participate in the program but that his bill would change that.

Lance Clem, public information officer for the Colorado Department of Public Safety, told The Independent that there was no opt-out provision in the program, but said communities could choose not to use the information.

While Secure Communities is still in a pilot phase, it is scheduled to be in every U.S. county by 2013.

Clem said though ICE would be informed of an alien’s presence if previously registered in their database and could issue a detainer request if they determined removal was worth their resources, it would be up to the law enforcement agency to determine whether or not to respond to the ICE request.

“If they want to opt out they just basically ignore the information,” Clem said.

However, this will not be the case if Balmer’s bill passes into law.

The ACLU’s spokesperson, Rosemary Harris Lytle, said the bill encourages racial profiling and is a severe drain on local government resources.

“Secure Communities is deceptively titled because it makes us all decidedly less secure. It encourages racial profiling, destroys the relationship communities have with the law enforcement whose job is to protect and serve them and it sweeps thousands of people into deportation proceedings,” Harris Lytle told The Independent. “Secure Communities is a drain on local law enforcement who will now be forced to hold someone in our local jails for a broken tail light rather than dedicating taxpayer dollars and limited resources to efforts that genuinely ensure our public safety.”

Balmer said that the bill was drafted to ensure that communities would be compelled to participate until federal funding for their county was available.

However, immigration lawyer Joyanne Athanasiou pointed out that 48-hour detainers have largely been underfunded across the country, costing New York $4.5 million and Travis County, Texas $1.3 million so far.

The Denver Post noted that ICE data shows that as of Sept. 30, 2010, 64,072 individuals had been deported. Of those deported, 17,174 had committed no crime beyond illegal presence in the country, 14,020 had committed an aggravated felony or two or more felonies, 25,619 had committed non-violent felonies or three or more misdemeanors and 7,259 were deported for minor offenses.

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