By Azra Halilovic /CU-CitizenAccess.org / Hoy — Last December, the CU-Immigration Forum held a public meeting at the Champaign Public Library to discuss the county’s implementation of Secure Communities. More than 125 people showed up to talk about and listen to the concerns over the program.
“In its one-year implementation in Champaign County, it has been plagued by problems,” Aarón Johnson-Ortíz, a member of the CU-Immigration Forum, told a crowd.
The CU-Immigration Forum is a group of community members, students, service providers and labor union representatives working to address issues surrounding immigration in the area. Johnson-Ortíz listed several concerns he and others shared about the federal immigration enforcement program Secure Communities, including the separation of families, using up jail space and tax dollars to house ICE detainees, and encouraging racial profiling.
He said County Sheriff Dan Walsh could stop cooperating with the program administratively.
“This can happen tomorrow morning if Sheriff Walsh wants to. All that’s required is political will,” he said.
Three months after the forum, that is exactly what the Champaign County sheriff did.
Walsh said in March of this year that he told federal officials the county would no longer honor detainer requests by immigration officials to hold inmates under the Secure Communities program.
Walsh, who declined to be interviewed for this story, said inmates would only be turned over by warrant or court order.
But even though Champaign County is no longer cooperating with the detainer requests, it still is one of 26 Illinois counties currently enrolled in the program.
And before Walsh changed his policy, his department identified dozens of non-citizens to the U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) agency who were then held in county jail.
A review of county Sheriff’s office data of non-citizen arrests from March 2011 to March 2012 involving ICE holds shows:
• 43 of the 45 of those arrested between March 2011 and March 2012 identified as Hispanic
• 35 were released to ICE
• 10 of the arrests were for traffic violations, including driving on a suspended license, driving an uninsured vehicle, driving an unregistered vehicle, driving under suspicion (DUS) and driving with improper registration
• Nine of the 10 traffic violation arrests made were of people identified as Hispanic; One identified as white, non-Hispanic
• Charges were dropped against 11 of the 45 arrested
The Forum had additional criticisms for local police who they said discouraged detained individuals from posting bond.
The police were allegedly telling people that posting bond would trigger ICE to pick them up. ICE can actually pick them up any time after the arrest; not paying bond only gives them more time while a person remains in custody without the 48-hour limit being activated. The hold remains in place until bond is posted.
At the same time that Sheriff Walsh was enrolling Champaign County in Secure Communities, student leaders at La Colectiva — a student organization at University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign that advocates for social justice and immigrant rights — began to focus its efforts beyond campus. The group expanded its work with the growing Spanish-speaking immigrant community in Champaign.
La Colectiva learned that Champaign County was enrolled in Secure Communities through Aarón Johnson-Ortíz.
A former AmeriCorps volunteer at the University YMCA who used to collaborate with La Colectiva, Johnson-Ortíz notified the group about the federal program after stumbling upon it online.
He said he found no local media coverage on the program but read about it on government websites where he learned that Champaign County was enrolled.
Executive director of the University YMCA, Mike Doyle, said that La Colectiva was the driving force behind his organization’s involvement in local immigration issues. The YMCA is a bridge between the university and the community and the issue of Secure Communities gave students an opportunity to provide support and resources behind the social justice and international culture the YMCA aims focuses on, Doyle said.
Soon after, several local citizens formed the Champaign-Urbana immigration forum, known as “The Forum,” to limit the local enforcement of Secure Communities.
In November 2011, the Forum drafted a document that criticized the program. The document is an addendum to a 2011 ICIRR report, “Immigration Enforcement – The Dangerous Reality Behind ‘Secure Communities’.”
The ICIRR report said that 77 percent of Illinois immigrants arrested under Secure Communities through July 2010 had no criminal convictions. It also states that in Kane County, one of the first counties in Illinois to sign up for the program, 82 percent of those arrested and 64 percent of those deported had no criminal convictions.
Fear in the community
Francisco Baires, community programs director at the University YMCA and La Colectiva, said he believes many immigrants live in the shadows, fearing that even a minor infraction could result in deportation.
“There is a spreading fear in the community and “Attrition Through Enforcement” has a lot to do with it” said Francisco Baires, the community programs director at the University YMCA.
Baires also is an advisor for La Colectiva as well as a community organizer for C-U Immigration Forum.
Baires said that rural communities like Champaign still need more resources to address the growing cultural and immigration needs. “Attrition Through Enforcement,” also referred to as “self-deportation,” is the idea that life for undocumented residents in the U.S. will gradually become more difficult and less satisfying when the government enforces all of its laws.
The goal is to make it so difficult for unauthorized residents to live and work in the U.S. so that taxpayers need not spend their dollars on deporting immigrants, who will want to leave of their own will.
Despite this, Baires was recently contacted by the city of Champaign regarding ways the city can help integrate Latinos better. He has also been communicating with the city of Urbana on Latino engagement and integration.
Lucia Maldonado, a parent liaison in the Urbana school district and widely known resources facilitator in the Hispanic community, also said fear is spreading among Hispanics in the area. “People are generally quiet,” said Maldonado, “but some are asking questions even though many avoid hearing about problems to not worry all the time. But it’s better to be prepared.”
Jesse Hoyt of the Illinois Coalition of Immigration and Refugee Rights said cities like Champaign- Urbana, Kankakee, Bloomington- Normal and Rantoul deserve more resources for their immigrant communities, and he expects that they will receive them as their immigrant populations continue to grow.
“There are more resources in Chicago, specifically community organizations,” said Hoyt. “In Champaign, you know, it’s predominantly white and tends to be a little bit more conservative and the immigrant population isn’t nearly as large.”
Hoyt added that lack of communication among politicians, law enforcement and citizens is responsible for tensions among immigrant communities and for the success of programs like Secure Communities.
“Places like Joliet and Champaign are very similar in that there’s a real disconnect between legislators and law enforcement working for the community,” said Hoyt, who said politicians aren’t paying attention to their Latino and immigrant constituencies and that law enforcement isn’t filling in that gap.
“As a result, there’s a lot of tension between the immigrant community and the police, the undocumented and the police,” said Hoyt. Hoyt added that members of the immigrant community are reluctant to report a crime because they feel that by reporting a crime they could end up being deported themselves. — Sean Powers, Illinois Public Media, contributed to this report.