IC residents: immigrants still fearful of federal tracking rules


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Members of the Iowa City community say the Secure Communities Program remains a fear for local immigrants.

Roughly 25 people gathered in the Iowa City Public Library, 123 S. Linn St., on Monday night to discuss local immigration issues.

Organizers were prompted to hold the event following the Nov. 2 declaration by Polk County Sheriff Bill McCarthy that the county would not fingerprint anyone with a simple misdemeanor. Iowa City officials are also discussing similar immigration policies.

Attendees were encouraged to contact Johnson County Sheriff Lonny Pulkrabek and ask him to implement the same fingerprinting policy Polk County has regarding the Secure Communities program. The program aims to identify and remove criminal aliens who threaten public safety.

Pulkrabek couldn't be reached for comment on Monday evening.

In accordance with federal law, anyone arrested by police is fingerprinted. Under the Secure Communities Program, fingerprints are automatically sent to the FBI, and the FBI forwards the prints to the U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement to compare against immigration databases.

"We don't want to fingerprint for simple misdemeanors, because of that decision … there are no prints of those people that would end up with the state or FBI or [Immigration and Customs Enforcement]," McCarthy said.

Though state and local governments are required to send fingerprints and can't opt out of the program, McCarthy said he doesn't believe not submitting fingerprints for simple misdemeanors is illegal.

The Secure Communities Program is divided into three offense levels. Serious crimes, such as homicide and robbery, are the largest risk, followed by other felonies, misdemeanors and lesser crimes.

McCarthy described a simple misdemeanor as stealing a candy bar, a bottle of shampoo, or a pair of jeans, while a misdemeanor could be something like a traffic citation.

"I certainly don't have an issue with anyone who wants to do it differently," he said. "We have to respond based on how we interpret the law."

The Secure Communities Program, aimed at catching criminal aliens, sometimes detains legal U.S. citizens.

Data recently obtained from the Department of Homeland Security by Warren Institute at the University of California-Berkeley School of Law shows the Secure Communities Program has detained around 3,600 U.S. citizens since the program was enacted in 2008. Latinos made up 93 percent of individuals arrested through the program.

Iowa City resident Harry Olmstead said states should be able to opt out of the federal program.

"I believe that Secure Communities is an unjust act, and we should eliminate it and should not have signed on to it at all," he said. "It needs to be erased from the books."

Olmstead said 17 Iowa City citizens have been detained through the Secure Communities Program. None of them were felons, he said.

Diane Finnerty of the Human Rights Commission said the Iowa City City Council will vote on the nine immigration proposals on Nov. 21.

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