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July 26, 2009

The controversial intersection of criminal justice practice and immigration policy

This New York Times article, which is headlined "Debate Intensifies Over Federal Deportation Policy," spotlights the array of controversial and interesting issues that arise when criminal justice practice and immigration policy intersect. Here is how the article starts:

The Obama administration is vastly expanding a federal effort begun under President George W. Bush to identify and deport illegal immigrants held in local jails. But here in the city where the effort got a trial start eight months ago, people on each side of the immigration debate have found fault with it.

Under the effort, known as Secure Communities, local officials check every set of fingerprints taken at jails against those of people who have had a brush with federal immigration authorities; in the past, they could check only for a criminal history in the F.B.I. database. If a person turns out to be an illegal immigrant, the case is turned over to Immigration and Customs Enforcement for possible deportation proceedings in addition to the criminal charges.

The Obama administration considers the trial program successful enough to pledge $195 million over the next year to expand the effort with an eye toward establishing it nationwide by late 2012, when it is projected to cost about $1 billion a year. It is now under way in 70 counties across the country, including those containing the cities of San Diego, Phoenix, Dallas, Miami and Durham, N.C. “Before we had no idea who was deportable,” said Sheriff’s Deputy Gwen Carroll of Harris County, where Houston is located.

But the trial program’s experience here has raised difficult questions about its goals, critics say, and serves as a stern reminder of the political and practical challenges facing the larger rollout.

Federal officials say that while they are pleased with their new ability to identify illegal immigrants, they do not have enough agents to deport all of those identified. Over all, only a third of those identified in the first seven months of the program as foreign nationals — which includes people with visas and temporary residence cards as well as illegal immigrants — have been deported. “We do have a limited amount of resources,” said David J. Venturella, the director of the federal program. “It’s our priority to focus on the more serious offenders.”

Proponents of stricter enforcement of immigration laws complain that by concentrating on people who pass through the jails, the government is letting too many other illegal immigrants off the hook. On the other side, advocacy groups for immigrants complain that the program has created a climate of fear and paranoia among Hispanics, hampering the police.

July 26, 2009 at 08:29 AM | Permalink

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