Wednesday, March 31, 2010

Eight N.C. counties join federal deportation program

The Union County sheriff's office, along with seven other N.C. county law enforcement agencies, have joined the newest federal program that identifies illegal immigrants in the jails.

Secure Communities is a fingerprint-based immigration screening program that gives local law enforcement access to FBI and immigration databases simultaneously. If an inmate is found to be in the country illegally, immigration officials are automatically alerted.

“Fingerprints don’t lie,” said Barbara Gonzalez, spokeswoman for U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement. “If their fingerprints are in the system showing they’re illegally in the country, and they say they’re legal, we know they’re lying. We’ve caught people saying that.”

The program is already operating in 21 N.C. counties, including Mecklenburg, Gaston, Cabarrus and Catawba. More than 104 illegal immigrants have been deported from Mecklenburg County using Secure Communities since the county implemented the program in October 2009, according to ICE.

Secure Communities has been introduced in the midst of controversy over civil liberties issue surroundings its predecessor, 287(g), which gives local law enforcement officers the ability to place illegal immigrants into deportation proceedings.

In Mecklenburg County, more than 8,000 illegal immigrants have been placed into deportation proceedings using the 287(g) program.

Supporters say the program is a valuable tool to protect the community and helps identify the criminal histories of people here illegally.

Critics however say 287(g) targets minor offenders. A UNC Chapel Hill report released last month, found that nearly a third of immigrants flagged for deportation from N.C. jails were arrested on traffic violations.

Latino advocates have described Secure Communities as 287(g)’s little brother. They say the federal government’s continued reliance on local agencies for immigration enforcement shows the need for comprehensive immigration reform.

Gonzalez said Secure Communities prioritizes those arrested on serious offenses, such as murder, rape, and kidnapping. She did not say minor offenders would be released.

In addition to Union County, Secure Communities was recently launched in Brunswick, Columbus, Dare, Halifax, Jackson, Lee and Transylvania counties.

Photo: Catawba County deputy Brian Helms operates fingerprint-based immigration screening program designed to nab illegal immigrants. JEFF WILLHELM -

The Census Boycott is on…

Some clergy call on illegal immigrants to boycott the Census. “This is a matter of moral principle,” Miguel Rivera, leader of the boycott, says.

The National Coalition Of Latino Clergy & Christian Leaders called for the boycott last year in an effort to push leaders to pass immigration reform.

Now Rivera, president of the coalition, says it's in the best interest of millions of illegal immigrants to “exercise their right to free expression maintaining themselves silent and not exposing themselves further.”

The group estimates more than 3 million illegal immigrants won’t cooperate with the Census.

The U.S. Constitution calls for a nationwide count every 10 years. The data is used to distribute some $300 billion to state and local governments and adjust congressional representation.

Census officials say its critical that every resident be counted, and that immigration status is not part of the query.

An undercount could affect millions of dollars coming to the Carolinas for roads, schools and hospitals. It could also determine whether either state gains a congressional seat.

The pastors however say political representation and federal money don't matter to illegal immigrants, who can't vote and don't get to enjoy many of the benefits of living here.

Here are excerpts from a letter Rivera sent out this morning:

"The Census boycott is on. This is a matter of moral principle and pastoral care.

Congress will not move forward with legalization, there is no moratorium on executing raids and deportations.

It is in the best interests and the welfare of millions of undocumented immigrants, to exercise their right to free expression maintaining themselves silent and not exposing themselves further…

… We recognize that the Census is important, but its own importance and accuracy, converts itself into a weapon of families destruction."

…Only a Cease and Desist on Raids and Deportations would move us to call the boycott effort to stop.

File photo: Radio host Jorge Medina asked listeners last year if they'll participate in Census. Many said they'll boycott.

Tuesday, March 30, 2010

Immigration fights healthcare hangover

Steve Breen's political cartoon says it all. A heavily bandaged elephant lies in a bombed crater. A barely standing donkey, with a broken arm, tells an immigration advocate, "Could we at least wait for the craters to stop smoldering?"

The Observer ran the cartoon on Sunday. Click here to see more of Breen's work.

Washington is reeling from the battles over health care and is not likely to take up another thrashing fight with mid-term elections on the horizon.

The same day the House passed its health care reform bill, tens of thousands of activists and supporters took to the Washington Mall demanding the administration take up immigration reform.

Some advocates said they almost cried listening to a videotaped message from President Obama pledging to “do everything in my power to forge a bipartisan consensus this year on this important issue.”

Advocates for immigration reform say there will never bean easy time to do immigration reform. Columnist Ruben Navarrette Jr. said the time to act is now. The legislative puzzle will only get more complicated.

“Some liberals want the immigration reform movement to be patient,” he writes. "There is nothing new there. Some of the left said the same thing during the civil rights movement.”

Many political watchers, however, feel immigration reform is pretty much dead this year. As Spanish-language journalist and pundit Rafael Prieto told me last year, few legislators will risk their political career for illegal immigrants in this political climate.

My colleague William Douglas at McClatchy Newspapers pointed out that White House Chief of Staff Rahm Emanuel, in a recent Wall Street Journal interview, didn’t even mention immigration reform when listing Obama’s post-health care agenda.

Even South Carolina Republican Sen. Lindsey Graham said as much stating that the recently passed health care legislation had “poisoned the well” for any bipartisanship on future legislation this session. He said this after joining Sen. Charles Schumer, a New York Democrat, to release a bipartisan framework for comprehensive reform that would give millions of illegal immigrants a path to legalization yet also provide tougher enforcement.

Friday, March 26, 2010

How did an article about soccer turn into a political debate?

That was a comment on a lively column about Wednesday's Mexico vs. Iceland exhibition soccer game. It was one of nearly 200 comments that started as a conversation about the upcoming World Cup and soccer’s lacking popularity in the United States.

The discussion turned quickly into an angry debate on illegal immigration with vicious personal attacks and name calling from opposing sides.

Sports columnist Scott Fowler wrote a great story about the “strange and wonderful” night in Charlotte when a corner of Uptown seemed more like Mexico City than the Queen City. The southern tip of downtown was awash in green. Tailgaters, some wearing sombreros or Mayan headdresses, chomped on corn tortillas filled with carnitas and danced to live drummers amidst a crowd of 63,000.

But the back-and-forth comments following Fowler’s column made the game out to sound like a violent rally on immigration reform instead of a friendly event that many Charlotte residents joined to get a taste of international sport and culture.

Immigration is no doubt a problem in this country that needs to be fixed. There are deep emotions on each side. Did the city seek and benefit economically from the game? Yes. Were many of the fans in the stands in the country illegally? Without a doubt.

The government has been wrestling with immigration a long time. And in today’s political climate, no letup appears likely.

Click here to see more photos outside the stadium and here for the action inside.

The game was not a rally for one way or the other. There were no signs (that I saw) on either side of the debate. Most people who went to the game or joined in the festivities outside were there likely because they enjoyed soccer or wanted a taste of one of the biggest international events in downtown Charlotte.

Thank goodness for sport, which has always been one of our great escapes from the problems of the day.

Just two people were arrested, including a crazy dude who jumped out onto the field at the start of the second half.

(Here is a video of his shenanigans. I agree with the bloggers who say the Panthers should sign up the security guard who tackled the guy.)

Photos: Sombreros, face paint, and the persistent echo of "Mex-i-co!" chants echoed throughout the stadium parking lot. LAURA-CHASE MCGEHEE -

Mexico's fans yell support for their team Wednesday evening at Bank of America Stadium in Charlotte, NC. JEFF SINER -

Friday, March 19, 2010

Charlotte caravan heads to D.C.

They're calling for immigration reform. But can such a controversial issue pass in today's political climate?

More than 800 people from Charlotte will travel to Washington, D.C. Sunday morning to join 10s of thousands rallying for immigration reform.

A caravan of 15 buses will leave Charlotte at midnight for the rally that will take place on the National Mall.

Ruben Campillo, state director for Reform Immigration for America, said more than 3,000 people from North Carolina will be at the rally.

“The message is simple,” he said. “We want to demand that the president and congress keep their promise to pass immigration reform.”

President Barack Obama promised to push reform in his first year of office. It's now year two and advocates have grown frustrated.

Supporters say there is still time to pass an immigration bill before the November elections. But the White House says nothing can happen without strong bipartisan support.

The rally is likely to be overshadowed by the House of Representatives if they vote that day to overhaul healthcare legislation.

Latino turned out in great numbers to help elect Obama. Now some leaders are cautioning the president and congress that their continued support may depend on passing immigration reform.

"We are still interested in seeing the Democrats succeed, and see Mr. Obama succeed," Jorge-Mario Cabrera, of the Coalition for Humane Immigrant Rights of Los Angeles, told Reuters. "However, we also are telling Congress and the president that this particular promise is so essential to our community’s well-being, to our families’ well-being, to our nation’s well-being, that if it’s not kept, we will remember in the November elections."

In response, the Americans for Legal Immigration PAC, which opposes giving illegal immigrants a path to legalization, called on supporters to visit their lawmakers and “and flood DC offices with calls, e-mails, and faxes opposing Comprehensive Immigration Reform Amnesty.”

William Gheen, president of ALIPAC, cited past efforts to pass immigration reform in 2006 and 2007 failed. He said most Americans want increased enforcement against illegal immigration. "We have beaten them before and we will defeat them again," Gheen said. "We hope that more Americans fighting Washington on other issues will take notice of our past expertise in stopping out of touch lawmakers from making nation destroying mistakes."

Associated Press contributed.

Photo: Demonstrators in front of Dallas City Hall in support of fair immigration reform laws Sunday, April 9, 2006 in Dallas. (AP Photo/Fort Worth Star-Telegram,D.J. Peters)