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The Nation: Redefining Secure Communities

Authors: Chris Strunk, and Helga Leitner
December 21, 2011

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Immigrant organizations, human rights advocates, churches, and unions are banding together to oppose the Secure Communities program on a local basis, write Chris Strunk and Helga Leitner.

On September 28, 2010, Esteban Garces led dozens of people in blaze-orange T-shirts into the Arlington County boardroom. The son of Bolivian immigrants, Garces had forgone a higher-paying career in network security to be a community organizer for the Northern Virginia nonprofit Tenants and Workers United. The members of the group were filled with excitement that day: they saw Arlington as the first step in challenging the mounting feeling of insecurity created by new immigration policies. At the head of the room, County Board member Walter Tejada introduced a resolution opposing the controversial Secure Communities program, stating that it "will create divisions in our community and promote a culture of fear and distrust of law enforcement that threatens public safety and makes communities less safe." When the board voted, it was unanimous.

Garces and the group had launched their campaign in April of that year, when Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) enrolled Arlington in Secure Communities. Largely unknown at the time, the federal immigration enforcement program enlists local police to share the fingerprints of every individual arrested with federal immigration authorities. Those identified as being in the country unlawfully are then located by ICE for detention and, eventually, deportation.

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