Feds aim at criminals, hit mostly Mexicans

Immigration activists protest the controversial Secure Communities program. Photo by Jason Reblando.

Immigration activists protest the controversial Secure Communities program. Photo by Jason Reblando.

The news: The Cook County Board of Commissioners voted to hold a hearing on its newly adopted policy not to comply with Secure Communities, a federal program aimed at deporting “dangerous criminal aliens.”

Behind the news: Among immigrants who commit crimes, do Mexicans make up a disproportionate share in Cook County? Or is there another reason that Mexicans are over-represented among the 342 Cook County Jail inmates for whom immigration officials issued a “detainer” under Secure Communities between Jan. 1, 2011, and Aug. 31, 2011?

Mexicans represented 89.8 percent of the 342 inmates who were held at Cook County Jail under the program, a Chicago Reporter analysis of jail records shows. Polish and Guatemalan immigrants made up the next highest share, both at 1.8 percent.

These inmates faced criminal charges that range from driving under the influence and possession of controlled substances to first-degree murder.

Under Secure Communities, immigration officials have used their own discretion in deciding which immigrants should be held.
In September, the county board decided that the county jail will not comply with the program unless the federal government pays for the expenses to hold each inmate.

Joshua Hoyt, director of the Illinois Coalition for Immigrant and Refugee Rights, said that immigration authorities too often focus on deporting Mexican nationals. “When they want to make a show of going after the undocumented, they seem to almost entirely come down on Mexican immigrants,” Hoyt said. “This is a pattern.”

But Gail Montenegro, spokeswoman for the U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement’s Chicago office, denied that nationality is a factor in the agency’s operations.

“While enforcing our nation’s immigration laws, the U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement focuses its limited resources on aliens with criminal convictions, regardless of nationality,” she said.

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