By Yuxiao Yuan
Santos Gutierrez, a mother of three girls under the age of 14, said she will lose her husband, Victoriano Aguilera, for a third time because of a minor traffic offense. She doesn’t know how to explain it to her 7-year-old daughter now just as she didn’t know how to explain to her elder daughter when Aguilera was deported to Guatemala the first time 13 years ago.
“Sometimes we may fail and make mistake, but no one is perfect.” Gutierrez said.
Aguilera’s fate has become a pattern for the nearly 12 million undocumented immigrants in the United States. They tried to enter this country without authorized papers but with the belief that they could make a better life here. They might not be caught by border security officers or they might be caught then released on the condition that they would go to the immigration court for a removal hearing.
In the latter case, an undocumented immigrant might then not show up for court. Instead, they settled down, got married and had children. Years passed until, for some reason, they were pulled over by the police. Because of the federal Secure Communities program, Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) were called in and an undocumented immigrant might be taken away.
The Secure Communities program was piloted in Boston in 2006 and expanded across Massachusetts in 2012 despite the opposition from Gov. Deval Patrick. The program allows federal immigration officials to receive fingerprint information shared between local police and the FBI. Once the ICE get the fingerprints, it can ask local police to detain the undocumented immigrants until ICE comes to pick them up.
The Secure Communities program is aimed at making the removal immigrants with convictions a top priority, according to the ICE website.
However, the reality in Massachusetts is another story. The statistics from ICE shows that since October, 2008, to January of this year, half of the immigrants deported through Secure Communities in the Bay State had no criminal record, far above the national average of 20 percent. In Middlesex County, 65 percent of the 199 deportees had no criminal record.
Deportees who were removed through Secure Communities without criminal record in MA from October 27, 2008 through January 31, 2014 (source: Secure Communities Nationwide Interoperability Statistics)
Deportees who were removed through Secure Communities without criminal record in US From October 27, 2008 through January 31, 2014 (source: Secure Communities Nationwide Interoperability Statistics)
Centro Presente, a Somerville-based Latino organization advocating for immigrant rights, has been lobbying for the Trust Act to limit the Secure Communities program. The Trust Act, introduced by state Sen. James Eldridge of Acton, calls for only detaining individuals who are older than 18 and have been confined to a state prison for at least five years for the conviction of a violent crime.
Jose Palma, the paralegal organizer of Centro Presente, said the Secure Communities program not only removes people without criminal records but also actually affects the safety of the community. “Now my family, my friends and my whole community don’t see the difference between the police officer and the ICE,” Palma said. “ What we have seen is that our victims of crimes are afraid to call police because they are afraid that for any reason they will be arrested and put in deportation.”
Research conducted by the University of Illinois at Chicago and Lake Research Partners last year showed that 70 percent of undocumented immigrants stated that they were less likely to call police if they were victims of a crime because they feared that the police would report their immigration status.
For immigrants like Aguilera, they are considered criminals by virtue of illegal reentry to the U.S. or other non-violence offenses.
Jessica Chicco, the supervising attorney for the Post-Deportation Human Rights Project at Boston College, said the term “criminal” often reminds people of dangerous outsiders, but a portion of them are either having minor criminal offenses or non-violent offenses.
“Many didn’t commit crime that deserves to be permanently separated from their families,” Chicco said.
A report out in 2013 by Human Impact Partners, which analyzes the impact of current policies on community health, estimated that 153,000 U.S-born children had a parent deported in 2012. The report also estimates that if the deportations remain at 2012 levels, 43,000 U.S. citizen children will experience health decline owing to the change in household income after the absence of a primary earner.
Meanwhile, a 2010 study by the Urban Institute, which examines social problems of children in the aftermath of immigration enforcement, indicated that during the first six months of separation from a parent, about two-thirds of children showed adverse behavior changes, such as frequent crying, increased fear and anxiety, and changes in sleeping and eating patterns.
Gutierrez said one of her daughters has threatened suicide if her father can’t return home. “I want to tell Obama that I see you on TV with your family. I just want to be with my family just as you are with yours,” Gutierrez said.