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Former Sacramento Police Chief Venegas Resigns From S-COMM Task Force; Report Shows Flawed Program

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Art Venegas, former Sacramento police chiefThe final report from the Task Force studying the controversial Secure Communities (S-COMM) Program was issued this week. The report’s release generated its own controversy when several of the panel’s members resigned. The first to walk away, former Sacramento, CA Police Chief Arturo Venegas, noted:

While there are many strong components to the report issued today to the Homeland Security Advisory Council by the Task Force, I believe it does not go far enough in making specific and enforceable recommendations that would repair the damaged relationship between immigrants and local police. In good conscience, I am unable to endorse this report and respectfully resign from the Task Force. 

I believe that Secure Communities is a deeply flawed program and that, in its current form, it is undermining public safety. 

Venegas’ letter is posted here.

The headline of an article on the Task Force report in the New York Times notes S-COMM “sows mistrust.” It also identifies many other problems:

A task force advising an Obama administration deportation program has sharply criticized immigration officials for creating confusion about its purposes and has found that the program had an “unintended negative impact” on public safety in local communities.

In a report on the program, known as Secure Communities, the task force said that the program had eroded public trust by leading to the detention of many immigrants who had not committed serious crimes, after officials said its aim was to remove “the worst of the worst” immigrant criminals from the United States. The task force report was completed Wednesday.

The report also said that immigration officials had created tensions with local authorities by making inconsistent statements on whether states and cities were required to participate.

In the most significant of its recommendations, the task force said that fingerprint identifications through the program should no longer lead federal agents to deport immigrants arrested by local police officers for minor traffic violations.

So, in those first few paragraphs describing the Task Force report, we’ve get these descriptions of Secure Communities:

  • “creating confusion”

  • “unintended negative impact”

  • “eroded public trust”

  • “created tensions with local authorities”

  • Plus, “sows mistrust”

While the report acknowledges much of what is wrong with S-Comm, the recommendations on how to fix it just don’t measure up.  We agree wholeheartedly with Chief Venegas’ assessment:

Unfortunately, the recommendations contained in the task force report fall far short of these principles.  If the scheme recommended by the task force is implemented, individuals simply arrested for minor violations, including traffic violations, will still be put through the system.  The federal government will decide whether they are candidates for deportation, based on enforcement priorities that include people whose only “crime” is a prior civil immigration violation.  I believe that many people with minor infractions, such as driving without a license, will still be put into deportation proceedings based on the scheme recommended by the task force.  Immigrants will continue to fear that contact with the police could lead to deportation, crimes will go unreported, and criminals will remain free to prey on others.  Civil immigration enforcement will continue to trump crime control in our communities.  

What’s more, immigrants charged with more serious offenses, but never convicted, have no protection in the task force report.  It seems we are agreeing to turn the long-stand principle of “innocent until proven guilty” on its head for certain groups of people.  If you are an immigrant, and you are charged with a more serious offense, you are “guilty until proven innocent” and you will be referred for deportation.  As an immigrant myself, and as an American, I cannot support that differing standard.