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U.S. citizens get caught up in immigration enforcement program

December 14, 2011 | 11:57 am

U.S. citizens have been illegally detained throughout Los Angeles County as a result of the controversial Secure Communities immigration enforcement program, a coalition of civil and immigrant rights groups said Wednesday.

The American Civil Liberties Union and others identified four U.S. citizens who have been detained through the fingerprint-sharing program in the last few months, including three identified in November.

“Native-born American citizens are being illegally detained by the Secure Communities program right here in L.A. County,’ Rep. Judy Chu (D-Monterey Park) said in a recorded statement. “This is unacceptable.”

The four citizens were initially detained following arrests for things like shoplifting but were kept in custody for several additional days because of requests by immigration authorities.

Antonio Montejano, 40, who was born and currently lives in Los Angeles, was arrested and charged with petty theft in early November. He pleaded guilty to the charge, the fine was waived and he was ordered released by a judge. But he was kept in detention and spent two more nights in a sheriff’s booking facility with no bed or mattress.

“I was telling every officer I’m an American citizen,” he said. “Nobody believed me.”


The groups called on local officials to revise policies for cooperating with immigration detainer requests. Santa Clara County and Cook County in Illinois have implemented such policies to limit local cooperation with immigration holds depending on a person’s criminal history. 

“Our local law enforcement does not have to be complicit in this ongoing wrong,” said Thomas Saenz, president of the Mexican American Legal Defense and Education Fund. “We in Los Angeles ought not be a part of this.”

Secure Communities, which was launched in 2008, shares fingerprints collected by state and local police with immigration authorities in order to identify and deport tens of thousands of people each year. It was initially touted as a way to target serious convicts for deportation but has come under fire because a large percentage of immigrants caught up in it were never convicted of a crime or are low-level offenders.

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— Paloma Esquivel

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