Last week’s surprise announcement that a controversial deportation program that uses police fingerprints to identify undocumented immigrants is being implemented in New York has infuriated many immigrant advocacy groups and elected officials.
Immigrants, organizers and local leaders rallied on the steps of City Hall and in front of the U.S. Customs and Immigration office in Manhattan this morning to denounce the Obama administration’s “Secure Communities” program, which they say will strain police relations, encourage racial profiling, and ultimately make the city less safe.
The federal program shares fingerprints obtained by local law enforcement agencies with the Department of Homeland Security, to help immigration officials identify and deport people deemed to be here illegally. The federal government plans to institute the program throughout the state, as well as in Massachusetts, starting tomorrow.
Though the federal government says Secure Communities is a tool to root out and deport criminals, protesters at today’s rally, including City Council Speaker Christine Quinn, say it has been used in other states to deport and detain immigrants who have never been convicted of a crime, or who were charged with minor offenses.
“Why are we deporting immigrants who pose no threat to public safety?” Quinn asked the crowd.
Here’s what some other protestors had to say:
Irania Sanchez, of Brooklyn, has seen the effects of deportation firsthand. Originally from Nicaragua, Sanchez has been a U.S. citizen for the last ten years. Five years ago, her undocumented cousin was deported, forced to leave his two sons — who were born in the states — behind.
“It’s not human, this law,” she said. She worries Secure Communities will cause the local police to seek out people who look foreign.
“It’s criminalizing you only for your face,” Sanchez said. “The people in my community say, ‘I need respect and dignity.’ The police don’t have respect for my community.”
As executive director of Staten Island’s El Centro del Immigrante, Gonzalo Mercado has been paying close attention to Secure Communities’ implementation around the country since it was formally started in 2008. What he’s seen, he says, is a policy that makes immigrant groups weary of the police for fear of deportation.
“When immigrants don’t report crimes and are afraid of the police, that’s bad for everybody, not just immigrant communities,” Mercado said. “It’s unthinkable. There’s nothing ‘secure’ about it.”
Originally from Brooklyn, Cecile Lumar now lives in Arizona, a state which has some of the harshest immigration policies in the country, and which also participates in Secure Communities. She’s in New York visiting friends and says she decided to attend today’s protest because she’s seen the effect of Secure Communities in her current hometown of Brisbee, AZ.
“People are afraid,” she said. “They don’t call the police when something is happening because they’re afraid of being picked up.”
Originally from Mexico, Jose Rosales immigrated to New York more than 30 years ago, and now lives on Staten Island. He joined the advocacy group Make the Road New York to protest against Secure Communities because he thinks the law will unfairly harm many who have done nothing wrong.
“It affects everybody,” he said. “I got a lot of friends and family that have no papers. They have kids here. They are working hard.”
Though he lives in Stamford, CT, Hector Lopez takes the train regularly to New York to participate in various Occupy Wall Street events, which is how he heard about Secure Communities, and decided to join today’s protest.
“I think it’s persecution against working people,” he said of the program. “The ruling class wants to keep the working class divided, along ethnic lines, racial lines, and legal status.”
“This is just cart blanche for law enforcement to terrorize immigrant communities, to tear families apart,” said Nastaran Mohit, an organizer with Laundry Workers Center United, a group that advocates for workers in the laundry industry, many of them immigrants.
“There’s a lot of fear, and it’s just getting worse every day,” she said. “We have members who are fearful just to go to work. These are the workers that keep this city running.”
Christina Chang works with the Minkwon Center for Community Action, which is based in Flushing, Queens, and provides Asian immigrants, many of them Korean and Chinese, with legal help and other social services.
“We see firsthand how the collaboration between local law enforcement and immigrant officials really devastates these communities,” Chang said.
The news that Secure Communities would be instituted in New York on Tuesday shocked those who work in the immigration realm, Chang said. DHS had previously said the program would be expanded in 2013.
“This really came out of left field,” she said. “It was just dropped on us like a bomb.”