Hundreds of demonstrators interrupted the meeting’s schedule of registered speakers so that Maria Bolanos, an undocumented Salvadoran from Prince George’s County who faces deportation
, could confront Marc Rapp, the ICE official who oversees the program.
“I am not a criminal,” Bolanos said in Spanish. I called the police for a little problem with my partner. . . . Because of Secure Communities, I have a deportation order.”
An organizer for Casa de Maryland said the immigration advocacy group planned for Bolanos to address the task force, a nongovernmental panel of independent experts who will make recommendations to Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano in September. But when Bolanos found out that Rapp was in the audience, she decided to speak to him directly.
Rapp declined to comment.
Wednesday’s hearing, in a packed 300-seat auditorium on George Mason University’s Arlington campus, was the last of four such sessions scheduled this month across the country. In Chicago, 10 people were arrested after 200 protesters marched out of the task force hearing and blocked an intersection. Hundreds walked out of the Los Angeles forum.
Organizers of the Arlington protest coordinated their plan with police, and there were no arrests. The protesters left after the hearing’s first hour, and as the meeting continued, they could be heard chanting outside.
The task force chairman, Chuck Wexler, director of the Police Executive Research Forum, said the purpose of the hearings is to listen to people who have firsthand experience of the program or insight into its effects. He said the testimony and protests Wednesday resembled those at the meetings in other cities.
“There are going to be people on both sides of the issue who have strong opinions,” he said. “So you try to sort out the facts from the rhetoric.”
Groups representing immigrants, crime victims and police have argued since the program was implemented in 2008 that it discourages undocumented residents from cooperating with law enforcement for fear of deportation.
ICE contends that the program is intended to target threats to public safety. But the agency reported last month that 28 percent of those deported under the program were not criminals and that an additional 30 percent were charged with minor offenses such as traffic violations.
Several people at the meeting spoke up in support of the program, saying the government needs to enforce its laws and to prevent crime.
Local jurisdictions have attempted to resist the program, with mixed results. Arlington was forced to comply against its leaders’ will; Montgomery County and the District managed at least to delay their participation. To address the confusion, ICE recently terminated all existing agreements with local governments concerning the program, which means they cannot opt out.
Widespread concern about the program led the agency in June to announce changes that offer greater protection to crime victims and witnesses. The task force was created as part of that effort.
A June memo from ICE’s director, John Morton, instructed officers to “exercise all appropriate prosecutorial discretion to minimize any effect that immigration enforcement may have on the willingness and ability of victims, witnesses, and plaintiffs to call police and pursue justice,” especially in cases of domestic violence. The memo said ICE policy precludes deporting someone who is the victim of or a witness to a crime.
Last week, the Department of Homeland Security started reviewing about 300,000 pending deportation cases to filter out immigrants who have not been convicted of a crime.