It's ironic that a pregnant Susana Chinchilla was turned away from the Thompson Center because she didn't have a valid I.D. Chinchilla, a Salvadoran who is facing deportation, was supposed to speak at a press conference in the 15th floor Blue Room to support an upcoming bill that will reform the controversial "Secure Communities" federal immigration program. But Chinchilla never got upstairs. She is a mom from South Holland who was arrested for allegedly running a stop sign on her way to buy medicine for her sick 3-year-old son who is a U.S. citizen.
County authorities in the Secure Communities program share fingerprints and information of anyone they arrest with the Department of Homeland Security (DHS), allowing for local police to crosscheck anyone booked into county or local jails -- even for minor crimes -- with DHS databases. If arrestees are undocumented, the local police are also reimbursed for holding them until they are handed over to deportation officials. During the press conference Monday, the Illinois Coalition for Immigrant and Refugee Rights (ICIRR) executive director Joshua Hoyt called that system "perverse" and an "intentional conspiracy" because it creates an incentive to "hunt Mexicans."
The Secure Communities program is headed by the Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE), which is reportedly overreaching into reluctant counties using questionable tactics. The program was created in an effort to catch and deport dangerous criminals, but ICIRR found that 77 percent of all immigrants arrested through July of last year in the participating counties in the state had no past criminal convictions. In fact, in Winnebago, Madison and St. Clair counties, every person arrested had no convictions. Nationwide, 27 percent had no criminal convictions.
A shell bill making its way through the General Assembly -- named the Smart Enforcement Act -- would allow countries to opt out of the Secure Communities program. Currently, 26 of the 102 counties in the state are enrolled, and according to ICIRR's Fred Tsao, Gov. Pat Quinn has halted any more counties from enrolling after the advocacy group shared its concerns. Cook County also has refused to implement the system, citing "sanctuary ordinances" that prohibit local authorities from immigration enforcement, according to a report by the Chicago News Cooperative. And although DuPage and Kane counties were the first to participate in November 2009, Kane County Sheriff Pat Perez spoke out against the the way the program was being implemented at the press conference. In Kane County, 82 percent of the 234 people arrested and 64 percent of those deported in the Secure Communities program had no past criminal convictions, according to ICIRR.
Watch Sheriff Perez's comments here:
The bill discussed at the press conference would also bar state money from being used to detain or deport non-criminal immigrants and seek transparency by requiring counties to report monthly to the Illinois State Police about arrests, charges, changes in status, and costs for an annual evaluation.
UPDATE (3/29): This post has been updated to clarify Ms. Chinchilla's story.