Denver Mayoral candidates Mejia and Linkhart question need for Secure Communities

James Mejia (Kersgaard)

As concern for the recently executed Secure Communities program swirls amongst activist groups, some Denver mayoral candidates are coming out against the Department of Homeland Security program. They say the program gets in the way of justice and strains local governments with increased detention costs.

“I would certainly want to have conversations about opting out of a program that would put even further burden on a budget that is already $100 million in debt,” mayoral candidate James Mejia told the Colorado Independent. He said he had considerable concerns that the program provided no state or federal funds to local communities and could hurt community policing.

Councilmember and mayoral candidate Doug Linkhart’s campaign cited similar concerns about the program and said Linkhart did not see it as the way forward for the city.

“Doug learns every day from our public attorneys and law enforcement agencies the necessity of only utilizing programs such as the Secure Communities Program with violent offenders after they have been convicted in court… As it stands now the Secure Communities Program causes more governance and judicial hang-ups than it resolves and thus, isn’t the proper strategy for Denver’s future,” Amanda Snipes, communications director for Linkhart said.

“As Mayor, I will work closely with the Denver Police and Sheriff’s Departments to ensure that civil liberties are safeguarded and local resources are directed toward keeping our neighborhoods safe. My top priority is working with local, state and federal authorities to keep our community safe from dangerous criminals, though I have deep concerns about the potential of violating civil liberties through the implementation of Secure Communities,” said Candidate and City Council Member Carol Boigon.

Candidates Chris Romer and Michael Hancock did not respond to our phone calls.

Former Gov. Bill Ritter signed a memorandum of agreement in January that he negotiated with The 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 focus on identifying and removing illegal immigrants who have committed serious crimes, though it is not limited to that function.

Lance Clem, public information officer for the Colorado Department of Public Safety, told the Independent, that Secure Communities is still in a pilot phase, but that it is scheduled to be in every U.S. county by 2013.  He said that while ICE is currently targeting to bring on line those counties that have the most criminal alien activity first, there is no opt-out provision.

However, 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.   

Counties could also opt-out of the S-Com by choosing not to send fingerprints to the state’s identity investigation bureau that send the biometric records to the FBI where those fingerprints are checked with criminal and ICE databanks. It is then that information is transferred to ICE and local law enforcement, according to the Washington Independent. However, this would also mean potentially dangerous criminals are not checked against criminal records. It is unlikely that any county would be interested in doing this.

A loosely connected consortium of advocacy groups, including the ACLU of Colorado, Colorado Progressive Coalition, and the Colorado Immigrants Rights Coalition met last week in a brainstorming and strategy meeting where they said they should put their energies into fighting the program at the local government level, not the governor’s office, with Denver being one of their first targets.

“If the biggest municipality in the state said they were not going to implement S-Com that sends a real signal,” Joe Salazar, founding member of the Colorado Latino Forum and a civil rights attorney, said.

The group said it was not targeting Gov. John Hickenlooper, because the Governor had already indicated he had no interest in reversing Ritter’s agreement.

“I feel what is happening with these programs is it is undercutting and destroying a sense of community policing and trust with law enforcement,” Hans Meyer, policy director for the Colorado Immigrant Rights Coalition, said. “I think that will help send the message to law enforcement and other people that there should be a united front to reject this program.”

Meyer called for a plan that limit’s the scope of the program and allows for counties to opt out.

The ACLU’s spokesperson, Rosemary Harris Lytle, agreed with the concern but said it was also 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 said. “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.”

Harris Lytle said that rather than focusing on “the worst-of-the-worst,” the data indicate that most of those tagged by Secure Communities are non-criminals and low-level offenders stopped for traffic violations.

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.

Both Mejia and Linkhart’s campaign were also concerned that the program would hinder the development of trust in some Denver community policing efforts–efforts that have recently suffered setbacks with reports of police violence.

“I have heard from many communities that [S-Com] is a disincentive to report crime. I think that anytime there is something out there that would make communities less secure not more secure that’s another area [of concern],” Mejia said. “I think when I reflect on this, we are really talking about an issue that should be handled by the federal government not local communities.”

“Doug believes strongly in common sense governance,” Snipes said. “The Secure Communities Program causes local law enforcement officials to become enforcers of federal immigration statutes.”

Snipes further commented that Linkhart was concerned that immigrants may be removed from criminal proceedings before a family could see justice brought by courts.

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