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November 22, 2011

Welch Signs Letter Asking Obama to End Controversial Immigration Enforcement Program

F-welch1Congressman Peter Welch (D-VT) has added his voice to the chorus calling on President Obama to end the controversial immigration-enforcement initiative known as Secure Communities.

Last Thursday, Welch signed a letter penned by U.S. Rep. Jose Serrano (D-NY) calling on the president to "immediately stop" the enforcement program, which compares fingerprints of people arrested by local police to a federal immigration database to look for deportable aliens.

"Secure Communities sows mistrust of the police and other uniformed personnel, thereby making our communities less safe," reads the letter. "The broad scope of the program means that immigrants, both documented and undocumented, are afraid to cooperate with police officers, because doing so may lead to deportation of themselves or their families."

Welch could not be reached for comment Tuesday, but spokesman Scott Coriell tells Seven Days that the congressman "continues to be frustrated that Congress has not enacted comprehensive immigration reform that creates a fair path to citizenship for law-abiding undocumented immigrants, including a guest-worker program that establishes clear guidelines for farmers and their employees"

The letter to Obama was signed by 32 members of Congress, including Welch. (Click here to download the letter to Obama, and the letter Rep. Serrano sent to his colleagues.)

The Obama administration's stated goal of Secure Communities was catching and deporting dangerous, criminal aliens who might otherwise go undetected. But the program has come under fire for sweeping up large numbers of minor offenders and separating families. The U.S. Department of Homeland Security (DHS) initially said the program was optional, and several states — including New York, Illinois and Massachusetts — signed memoranda with the feds to opt out, or publicly declared they would not participate.

In Vermont, the VT Migrant Farmworker Solidarity Project lobbied Gov. Peter Shumlin to opt out of the program, but before he made a decision, the Obama administration declared the program was mandatory and would be implemented nationwide by 2013.

In September, a Washington, D.C., task force charged with recommending fixes for Secure Communities found that DHS gave "incorrect or incomplete" information to jurisdictions who would implement the program. The report also said S-Comm, as the program is known, could have an "unintended negative impact" on communities by making immigrants fearful of calling police.

"The recently released report of the task force established by DHS to review Secure Communities has led us to conclude that the program must immediately be terminated," reads the letter signed by Welch.

It goes on:

"This program of wholesale removal hurts our communities by funneling immigrants into an unjust deportation system that fails to offer due process protections. When detained, individuals are not  afforded a right to counsel and are often transferred to remote locations for detention, which severely limits their access to resources to help them fight their cases. This patently unfair system needs to be seriously reformed, not expanded through fatally flawed programs like Secure Communities."

Danilo LopezWhether the letter has any impact remains to be seen. But Welch's support for repeal represents another victory for the VT Migrant Farmworker Solidarity Project, which represents the interests of the hundreds of farmworkers — both legal and illegal — employed on Vermont dairy farms. Last month, the VTMFSP successfully lobbied the Shumlin administration to adopt a "don't ask, don't tell" approach to enforcing immigration laws by Vermont State Police. The policy directs state troopers not to ask suspected undocumented immigrants for papers unless there is evidence of another crime.

Danilo Lopez (pictured) is an undocumented farmworker from Mexico who was detained by U.S. Border Patrol following a routine traffic stop on I-89 in September. He reacted to Welch's letter signing in a statement released by the VTMFSP.

"We are thrilled with Congressman Welch's decision to stand against ICE's (in)Secure Communities program that, in practice, makes police do the jobs of immigrant agents. Obama has deported over 1 million hardworking people whose supposed 'crime' is to work hard to feed their families. He's broken promise after promise to our communities. But, we've seen a lot of change on this issue in Vermont in a little time and thank Vermonters, Governor Shumlin, and Peter Welch for standing with us."

Charles Steck Photo

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