Opponents of a mandatory federal immigration program called “Secure Communities” began rallying in cities that were the last holdouts in implementing the controversial program.
The protesters included immigrants, civil rights activists and elected officials.
Secure Communities is a controversial program that requires local police to share fingerprints with immigration officials. The federal government has been implementing it in phases, planning eventually to have it in place nationwide.
U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement, or ICE, sees the program as a tool for finding and deporting undocumented criminals.
Opponents say it can easily lead to profiling and that it actually makes communities less secure by damaging relations between immigrants and police.
"It has been clear from its inception that this program undermines our safety and infringes on our civil rights," said Chung-Wha Hong of the New York Immigration Coalition in a statement. "And yet the criticism goes unheeded by the administration."
Concerns led New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo to suspend the program in June after about half the state's counties had adopted it. But a law enforcement official familiar with the program said Monday it will launch statewide Tuesday. The official spoke on condition of anonymity because they weren't authorized to discuss the program.
Over the weekend, William C. Thompson, Jr., a former New York City comptroller who plans to run for mayor in 2013, fired off a letter to President Obama assailing the implementation of Secure Communities in New York.
Thompson, who was the Democratic nominee for mayor in 2009, almost defeating Mayor Michael R. Bloomberg, said in his letter: “New Yorkers like me believe in strong and safe communities, and anyone who has committed a violent crime and is a threat to the public does not deserve the privilege of living in our great nation.”
But, Thompson added: “Studies show that this program does little to protect our neighborhoods. Instead, it drives many hard-working immigrants into the shadows of our society, thus actually compromising public safety."
ICE officials said in a statement that the program has removed dangerous criminals from the United States, and helped law enforcement authorities channel their energy and attention on immigrants who pose the largest threats here.
“Secure Communities has proven to be the single most valuable tool in allowing the agency to eliminate the ad hoc approach of the past and focus on criminal aliens and repeat immigration law violators," said the ICE statement. "In Fiscal Year 2011, for the first time ever, 55 percent of all of ICE’s removals were convicted criminals and over 90 percent of all removals clearly fell into one of ICE's categories for priority enforcement."
Last week in Boston, immigrant rights activists and representatives from faith, labor and human rights organizations condemned the implementation of the federal immigration program in Massachusetts.
"We’re not going to let the [federal government] impose a program that’s been a complete failure,” said Cristina Aguilera, a campaign organizer with the Massachusetts Immigrant and Refugee Advocacy Coalition or MIRA. “We’re going to hold the Obama administration accountable…our voice is going to be heard.”
Meanwhile, in the state of Washington, immigrant rights groups are lobbying King County officials to stop holding suspected undocumented immigrants in county jails to challenge Secure Communities.
The program was fully activated in Washington state last month. The program has been almost fully activated nationwide, despite protests from some state governors.
“To date, Secure Communities has helped ICE remove more than 135,000 convicted criminal aliens including more than 49,000 convicted of major violent offenses like murder, rape and the sexual abuse of children," ICE officials said in the statement. "Approximately 95 percent of the 179,000 removals generated through Secure Communities clearly fell within one of ICE’s enforcement priorities.”
This story contains material by the Associated Press.