Immigration enforcement program phase-out won't allay advocates' worries

Local immigrant advocates aren't exactly elated at the news that the Obama administration plans to phase out a controversial program that allows local law enforcement to act as immigration officers. "At the end of the day, there's another elephant in the room," says Justin Valas, of the Colorado Immigrant Rights Coalition.

That elephant is Secure Communities, a federal program that checks fingerprints of people booked into local jails against a national database of undocumented immigrants. Colorado signed on to the program last year, and the feds have said they plan to implement it across the country by 2013.

"The problem is that we have this one hurtful and damaging program that's being phased out, but we still have Secure Communities," says Valas, CIRC's organizing and advocacy fellow. "We can get excited over the one disappearing, but we still have all these other programs that will be doing the same thing."

Since 2007, the Colorado State Patrol has participated in the program that's being phased out, called 287(g) after the relevant section of federal law. The agreement allows officers in a special Immigration Enforcement Unit to interrogate people they pull over about their immigration status, arrest anyone they believe to be in the country illegally, and transport those people to deportation facilities.

The Immigration Enforcement Unit was created by lawmakers in 2006 to address the problem of human smuggling on Colorado's highways. As explained in the Westword cover story, "Disappearing Act," the program hasn't always worked as planned, though -- at least when it comes to prosecuting the alleged smugglers.

Lance Clem, a State Patrol spokesman, said the possible ending of the 287(g) program will not affect what the Immigration Enforcement Unit does. "The IEU was created by an act of the Colorado legislature," he wrote in an e-mail. "It is not contingent on having a 287(g) agreement in place. Should that authority cease, the IEU will continue its work and will utilize the Secure Communities program in place of the IEU to determine alien status and to determine what action will be taken by ICE when someone is detained."

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He said the State Patrol has not received notification from the feds about ending its 287(g) agreement, though he says he's read the news reports about the program's planned phase-out. "Any change in the 287(g) agreement will not change the primary mission of the unit," he wrote. That includes combating human trafficking.

More from our Immigration archive: "Immigration: About 15 percent of Denver case subjects allowed to stay in U.S. after review."

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