Legislation dealing with illegal immigrants has become a hot button issue in light of a tough new law in Arizona. And now members of the Latin-American community in Winnebago county are calling a new program here racist, but local law enforcement officials say it will actually make us safer.
"We're here to say shut this program down, this program will destroy our families!"
Dozens of protesters gathered outside the Winnebago County Justice Center Wednesday, Showing their anger over the "Secure Communities" program. Five Illinois counties already use the pilot program to identify and remove criminal aliens from the United States. But the local chapter of the league of Latin-American citizens say it's racial profiling.
"Are we giving a license to law enforcement agents in this county that already have an anti-immigrant sentiment to do racial profiling and directly act in a racist way?" said Julie Contreras , LULAC.
Every time someone enters the Winnebago County jail on criminal charges, thay have their fingerprints scanned. Normally that would just go to the FBI, now, it's also sent to the Department of Homeland Security. If the suspect entered the country illegally, they can be held for immigration and customs enforcement. So far 22 people have been flagged for pick-up by ICE. Of the 22.. 19 were being held for serious criminal offences.
"One person two counts of murder, another person reckless homicide, another person reckless homicide, aggravated kidnapping, residential burglary, reckless homicide, domestic battery, aggravated criminal sexual abuse if that's the type of people it's identifying it's an outstanding program, the people I talk to don't want them in our community," said Winnebago County Sheriff Dick Meyers.
Those protesting say they have no problem with serious criminals being punished; their concern lies more with friends and family members being arrested and deported for minor violations.
"We're not Arizona, we're here in Illinois, if it's minor violations, immigration probable won't bother with them, but for those people who are on charges like this, that go through the county jails nationwide, to be able to identify them, from an immigration standpoint is a plus," Meyers said.
Sheriff Meyers says because the program is fingerprint based, it can actually prevent racial profiling. Since "Secure Communities" started sharing information in 2008, ICE has identified almost 22 thousand aliens charged or convicted with level one crimes such as murder and kidnapping.
"Secure Communities" started as a pilot program here in Winnebago county last month. The Department of Homeland Security hopes to take it nationwide by 2013.