By Gene Davis, DENVER DAILY NEWS
The opposition is heating up to a program that would crack down on illegal immigrants by fingerprinting all inmates and then using that information to verify their residential status.
But supporters of the program maintain that the so-called Secure Communities initiative would live up to its name by making the state safer.
The Secure Communities initiative takes the fingerprints of everyone booked into jail for any crime and then runs the prints against FBI criminal history records and Homeland Security immigration records. The purpose is to determine who is in the country legally. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) is in the process of expanding the federal program and is seeking Colorado’s participation.
Colorado Immigrant Rights Coalition (CIRC) held a press conference Friday to lay out their opposition to the initiative. Featured in the press conference was Keith Ikeda, chief of police of Basalt.
Ikeda argued that the Secure Communities initiative would erode the public trust between law enforcement and certain groups in the community He worries that the initiative would cause people who were worried about their immigration status to flee the scene during a basic accident or traffic stop, which would hurt law enforcement officers’ ability to maintain safety on the roads. He also believes certain members of the community would not report instances of cases like child abuse, domestic violence or fraud because they would fear that talking to police could cause their immigration status to be checked.
“We operate on public trust,” said Ikeda. “If we started working towards trying to identify undocumented residents on a variety of different contacts, that public trust would break down.”
But Stan Weekes, director of the Colorado Alliance for Immigration Reform, believes Secure Communities would be another tool to help combat illegal immigration. He thinks illegal immigrants should be concerned about being detected and deported since they are essentially conducting fraud.
“This is an IT solution in dealing with issues of identity,” he said. “It makes sense to have a uniform system to determine someone’s immigration status.”
Immigrant rights advocates are asking Gov. Bill Ritter, a Democrat, to request that Colorado not be a part of the program. A Ritter spokesman said Friday that the governor was still considering the measure and did not have a timeline for making a decision.
Despite the opinions of Ikeda, Ritter received letters from the Colorado police chiefs and sheriffs associations showing support for Secure Communities.
CIRC said if Colorado enters into an agreement with the federal government, there should be protections for victims of domestic violence; an exemption for juveniles; it should only apply to Level 1 offenses at the point of conviction; and there should be an established written opt out procedure for local jurisdictions.
A Ritter spokesman said if the state does move forward with Secure Communities, it would start off as a voluntary pilot program for communities that would want to participate and there would be a high degree of reporting, data review and transparency.
Former Congressman Tom Tancredo, an outspoken critic of illegal immigration who is running for governor as an American Constitution Party candidate, said in July if he were elected governor he would implement programs such as Secure Communities. But he said there is no point in implementing immigration enforcement programs if the state doesn’t enforce the programs themselves.
Republican gubernatorial candidate Dan Maes also said he supports implementing Secure Communities. The cabinet for Mayor John Hickenlooper, the Democratic gubernatorial candidate, is preparing to implement Secure Communities despite Ritter not making a decision, according to a Hickenlooper spokesman.
The federal government intends for Secure Communities to be mandatory in every community nationwide by 2013, according to a Ritter spokesman.