Dec. 19, 2011 | The Department of Homeland Security cracked down on Arizona Sheriff Joe Arpaio last week for his often times overzealous use of a controversial federal program that tends to target Latinos–regardless of their immigration status.
Half of those deported had no record
of criminal offenses.
The possibility of local law enforcement undermining the public trust among Latinos in ways Arpaio has achieved in Arizona has ignited hysteria among minorities and has some Hayward council members worried a similar sense of fear exists in their city.
At issue is the use of a federal program that forces local police to forward finger prints to a county hub, which in turn is added to a federal repository of biometric information.
The program, called Secure Communities, is an offshoot of the Patriot Act and is currently used in 44 states, including California. The deadline for the remaining states to comply is 2013 and its immediacy has raised questions over its usefulness among members of both political parties and law enforcement.
Hayward Councilman Francisco Zermeno asked for a report on the city’s compliance and policies in regards to the program after some voices in the Latino community raised questions over whether members of their community risk being ensnared.
“We do not enforce immigration law,” said Hayward Police Chief Diane Urban to allay concerns illegal immigrants could be targeted by Hayward police officers. “We really recognize and truly value our relationships in the community. It is the last thing we want people to do is to be reluctant to speak with us.”
According the U.S. Census, just over 40 percent of Hayward’s population is Latino making it one of the largest Hispanic communities in the entire Bay Area.
Numerous police chief around the country have questioned whether the program may inadvertently do harm to the evidence gathering function of policing. To further the point, Zermeno feared Latinos could be targeted by the manner of their dress and speak or skin color by the law.
“Someone in the city of Hayward would never be arrested solely because they were undocumented,” Hayward City Manager Fran David quickly answered. “There would have to be another reason that brought them to the attention of the police in order for them to be in jail.”
The Department of Homeland Security’s decision last week to revoke access to the fingerprinting database contained within Secure Communities by Arpaio is an admonition by the government that racial-profiling of minorities is occurring, at least in Arizona.
A federal task force found half of the 141,000 illegal immigrants deported using Secure Communities had no criminal convictions. Another sore point among some municipalities is the government reneging on a promise to eventually allow them to opt-out of the program, if they wish.
Zermeno asked about the police department’s own ability to not cooperate with what has become a de facto federal mandate.
“To not forward someones fingerprints really puts us in an untenable position, quite frankly,” said Urban. Otherwise, she added, there would not be any way for the department to know whether a detained individual had a violent history or not, especially if they committed the crime in another region or state.