M.C. Law Group immigration attorneys Alex Meyerovich and Amy Morilla Miller met recently with the Molina family of Stamford, which has been experiencing firsthand the painful effects of being separated from a loved one by the barriers of immigration law enforcement.
With the introduction of the federal immigration regulation program Secure Communities — that was recently put into effect statewide in Connecticut — there may be more families sharing the Molinas’ pain.
Secure Communities unites the resources of Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE), the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI), and local law enforcement in order to more effectively identify, detain, and remove criminal and/or illegal aliens. The program was launched in 2008 and was implemented statewide in Connecticut earlier this year. The program is scheduled to be in effect nationwide by 2013.
Under the Secure Communities program, any set of fingerprints taken by local law enforcement will automatically be sent first to the FBI for a criminal record check, and next to ICE for an immigration status check. If the database checks reveal a match to a criminal record and/or an illegal or “otherwise removable” immigration status, the individual will be immediately detained and subject to deportation proceedings.
According to the program’s records, since October 2011 alone, Secure Communities has removed over 110,000 criminal aliens, including 39,500 removals of criminal aliens convicted for aggravated felony abuses such as murder, rape, and child sex abuse.
Despite the program’s success in detaining and removing serious criminal alien offenders, it conversely has the ability to remove aliens with no criminal record whatsoever. Attorney Alex Meyerovich, who opposes the program, argues that the ability for local law enforcement to detain illegal immigrants for minor offenses, which can result in their deportation, represents an overzealous and unnecessary extension of ICE’s power. Meyerovich and other critics of the program point to this and more potentially negative side effects of the program as major flaws of Secure Communities.
“On the surface, Secure Communities sounds like a very reasonable program. But what it means in reality is that every time an alien comes in contact with the police, they will have an increased fear of deportation,” said Meyerovich. “This fear means there will be a decreased incentive to talk to the police, which means crime — and more specifically, domestic abuse situations and traffic accidents — is less likely to be reported by immigrant communities.”
In addition to underreported crime, Meyerovich argues that the uniform deportation of non-criminal aliens — often with established lives, businesses, and families in the U.S. — is another detrimental side effect of Secure Communities, and one that has the potential to rip many families apart.
“It’s completely absurd,” said Meyerovich. “An alien can live here for years, pay American taxes, work in or start an American business, and have American spouses and children, but with Secure Communities, one encounter with local law enforcement can potentially mean a non-negotiable ticket back home.”
The Molina family knows the pain of a family member being deported all too well. Meyerovich and fellow M.C. Law Group attorney Amy Morilla Miller represent the family in their attempts to return Sandra Payes-Chacon — wife of U.S. citizen Rony Molina, and mother to U.S. citizen children Evelin, 19, Alex, 11, and Ronald, 8 — to her home in Connecticut.
Payes-Chacon was detained and deported to her native country Guatemala in 2010, and is now barred from entering the U.S.for ten years. All of the family’s legal attempts to rectify her situation — including a request for humanitarian parole sent to the Department of Homeland Security — have been denied.
In her absence, Rony Molina and his children must continue to endure the heartbreaking reality of being cut off from their wife and mother for ten years. Payes-Chacon herself is suffering from severe depression due to the separation.
“The children really need the presence of their mother,” said attorney Morilla Miller of the Molinas’ situation. “This family is being divided unnecessarily.”
Although Payes-Chacon’s deportation did not occur because of Secure Communities, critics caution that as the program continues to expand, cases like the Molina family’s will become more frequent. What troubles Morilla Miller about this prospect is the unsympathetic attitude that she increasingly sees towards these unnecessary deportations.
“Some people might want to dismiss what this family is going through, and say that the husband and children should just pick up and move to Guatemala, but that’s ridiculous,” said Morilla Miller. “Her husband is a U.S. citizen. Her children are U.S. citizens, born and raised here like any American child. Guatemala is not only a foreign country to them, but one with poor employment and educational prospects, limited access to medical resources, and one of the worst crime rates. What American would want to raise their family in an environment like that?”
As Secure Communities gets closer to its goal of nationwide implementation by 2013, debates over immigration reform and the rights of immigrants are sure to intensify. The rights of illegal immigrants is a hotly contested issue among politicians and American citizens alike, with many arguing for stricter immigration regulation and harsher consequences for those who enter the country illegally.
However, Morilla Miller fervently opposes such measures, and sees the current debate over illegal immigration as blatantly ignoring America’s storied history of welcoming immigrants.
“America was founded on the scores of immigrants who came to this country in pursuit of a better life, ” Morilla Miller said. “At some point, virtually every American citizen’s ancestors were immigrants. So what’s the point of fighting for the rights of immigrants to stay in this country? You. If someone had turned away your immigrant ancestors, then you wouldn’t be here either.”