A new bill is again stirring up the immigration debate in California. The governor is currently considering a bill that would potentially allow area law enforcement the ability to limit their participation in the federal government’s Secure Communities program. This program allows immigration officials to place deportation holds on undocumented immigrants who are detained by law enforcement officials. Legal representation for detainees who are in this situation could be a challenge.
The legislation has to be acted upon by Sept. 30. It would provide local law enforcement the opportunity to only hold immigrants who have criminal convictions of a serious nature. The newest legislation again opens the door for debate on if or even how much the states should assist the federal government in enforcing immigration laws. Critics of the bill stated that cooperation between the local and federal government is extremely important to ensure the safety of residents. However, advocates of the legislation state that passage of the bill could help rebuild the damaged trust between local authorities and undocumented immigrants in the area.
If the bill is passed, it could keep the focus solely on immigrants who are guilty of serious law violations and not immigrants who have no or only minor violations. The actual purpose of the Secure Communities program is to apprehend only the most serious violators, but it has immigrants living in fear of being detained. Currently the program mandates that law enforcement agencies share data on a detained immigrant’s fingerprints with immigration authorities. If that person happens to be undocumented, they are likely put on an immigration hold, something that would normally lead to an eventual deportation.
Representation for detainees is a right for all immigrants; however, it can be difficult to obtain fair counsel if they are detained and placed on an immigration hold. The passage of the California bill could give undocumented immigrants the opportunity to avoid forced deportation. While the government does have the right to control their borders, they are also obligated to protect immigrant’s human rights. Many detained immigrants may not understand why they are being detained and may not know they can seek counsel. Representation for detainees can help immigrants understand their rights and potentially allow them to remain in the country.
Source: U-T San Diego, “Immigration bill rekindles debate,” Elizabeth Aguilera, Sept. 3, 2012