CHAMPAIGN — While advocates for local immigrants expressed concerns at a forum on Thursday night over a controversial program used by law enforcement to detain and deport immigrants, Champaign County's new jail superintendent announced changes intended to improve local implementation of the program.
More than 125 people turned out for a forum on the so-called Secure Communities program at the Champaign Public Library. The forum was presented by the Champaign-Urbana Immigration Forum, a group of citizens interested in the plight of immigrants in the community.
Josh Hoyt, director of the Illinois Coalition for Immigration and Refugee Rights, said Secure Communities is a program launched by the Bush administration in 2008 to remove dangerous criminal immigrants who pose a threat to public safety.
The Champaign County sheriff's office participates in the program, which allows fingerprints of immigrants to be sent to the U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement and allows police to continue to keep people in custody so that ICE can pick them up and begin the process of deportation.
Jose Sanchez of the C-U Immigration Forum questioned how the program has been implemented.
"The program was supposed to deport high-level criminals, including people convicted of rape, drug possession and murder," Sanchez said. "But we're seeing people deported following traffic violations and for taking their kids to school. These people aren't criminals, and they should not be targeted."
"This program that is operating in our county isn't working, and there are ways we can change it and improve it," said Mike Doyle, executive director of the University YMCA.
Forum member Lucia Maldonado told the stories of a local 13-year-old girl whose father suddenly disappeared after he was picked up and an area mother who was held at the county jail for four days after she was involved in a traffic accident.
"It is a horrendous situation," Maldonado said. "Many immigrants have lost their trust with the police department, and that trust has been broken."
Forum member Aaron Johnson-Ortiz suggested a series of changes to the local program, including the suspension of all immigration holds at the county jail, especially for non-criminals, and improvements to documentation and the flow of information.
Champaign County sheriff's Capt. Allen Jones, the new jail superintendent, announced the creation of a process that he said will include detailed accountability for all people held under the Secure Communities program.
Jones said the sheriff's office will also create a document, written in both English and Spanish, to be given to all people being held for ICE. The document will include information about the charges the person being held faces, the posting of bonds and what happens to him or her when the local bond has been posted.
"We will do what we can to make this process function in the best way it can," Jones said.