Leaders oppose ID system Federal immigration program draws of ire of Corona pols, advocates

An English-to-Spanish translator repeats the story of Bangladeshi immigrant Rozina Abduo of Queens Community House (second from l.) for the mostly Spanish-speaking audience at an event warning locals about the U.S. Immigration Department's Secure Communities Program. Photo by Rebecca Henely
By Rebecca Henely

Advocacy groups and elected officials in Corona last week denounced U.S. Immigration and Custom Enforcement’s Secure Communities, an initiative aimed at modernizing how the organization identifies criminal aliens but one which the groups say will breed distrust of the police in immigrant neighborhoods.

“We cannot trust this system or trust ICE,” said Josh Epstein, staff attorney for the Immigrant Defense Project.

Secure Communities, which ICE’s website says will remove criminal aliens from the United States, runs an automatic check of a person’s criminal history and immigration status through systems kept by the Federal Bureau of Investigation and the U.S. Department of Homeland Security. The program has already been enacted in jurisdictions in 33 states and ICE’s website tells stories of individuals identified through the system who had previously been deported for assault or drug convictions who were able to be quickly deported again.

Epstein said that while no jurisdictions in New York use Secure Communities yet, Gov. David Paterson had signed a memorandum of understanding to bring the program to New York.

Representatives from local groups, including New Immigrant Community Empowerment, the New York Civic Participation Project, the Immigration Defense Project and the Queens Community House, said those they knew of people or family members who had had negative experiences with ICE and were deported from the country or kept in a detention cell in another state for much lesser convictions.

“We are afraid that Secure Communities would cause more instances like these in our communities and cause more fear in our communities,” said Rozina Abduo, a Bangladeshi immigrant from Queens Community House.

Walter Sinche, a member of Alianza Ecuatoriana Internacional, cited one case in which an Asian man and a Mexican man in New Jersey had been fighting outside a business where one of them worked. The manager called police to the house of the Mexican man and, despite their not being involved in the fight, most of the other people in the house were either deported or are going through the process of being deported.

Abduo said her brother-in-law’s exile from the United States began after a female customer who wanted him removed from his job at a restaurant reported him to his manager, even though her brother-in-law’s wife was a citizen and his children were born in the country.

Epstein said he believed Secure Communities would speed up the process of sending people to an immigrant detention center or out of the country and said that under it ICE agents no longer have to meet with the immigrant under investigation.

“Thousands more people at the point of arrest will go to the detention center when ICE officials only reviewed the papers,” Epstein said. “They no longer have to [meet with the person under investigation] in the jail.”

Epstein said his group is forming a coalition and is circulating a petition requesting Paterson to rescind the memorandum. Similar forums about the initiative were also held in Manhattan and Brooklyn.

City Councilman Daniel Dromm (D-Jackson Heights), who was arrested in June along with Councilwoman Julissa Ferreras (D-East Elmhurst) for protesting Arizona’s immigration law, said the initiative represents an attack on America’s immigrant communities.

“We must gather together politically to fight against it,” he said.

State Sen. Jose Peralta (D-East Elmhurst) said he had spoken with Paterson about this issue, but more must be done.

“If you come in [America] to work hard and play by the rules, you deserve every right this country has to offer,” Peralta said.

Reach reporter Rebecca Henely by e-mail at rhenely@cnglocal.com or by phone at 718-260-4564.

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