[UPDATED with ICE Suspending Deportation:] Isaura Garcia, Battered Woman Facing Deportation, Embodies Problems with ICE Program

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UPDATE, MAY 13, 5:26 P.M.: The U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) agency has informed the Coalition for Humane Immigrant Rights of Los Angeles (CHIRLA) that it is dropping deportation proceedings against Isaura Garcia.

Meanwhile, Joseph Huprich, the woman's pro bono attorney, says Garcia has received police approval for a U visa reserved for immigrant crime victims, which will next be presented to federal immigration officials.

Despite the victories in this case, CHIRLA and the ACLU are still calling on President Barack Obama to suspend the Secure Communities program.

Executive Director Hector Villagra of the ACLU of Southern California issued the following statement:

"We applaud ICE's decision to seek termination of the removal proceedings against Isaura Garcia, a domestic violence victim, identified through the Secure Communities program for removal.  Isaura should never have been placed in deportation proceedings as a result of her call to 9-1-1; ICE's commitment to terminate her case recognizes that fact. 

"We remain concerned, however, about the many other women like Isaura who are victims of crimes but swept up in the deportation dragnet of Secure Communities. We hope that ICE will take meaningful steps to ensure that Secure Communities will be limited to its stated purpose of removing dangerous criminals, not people, like Isaura, who are victims of crime."

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Hector Villagra, ACLU-SC executive director
UPDATE, MAY 12, 3:30 P.M.: After her boyfriend violently threw Isaura Garcia out of her LA-area apartment on Feb. 6, she dialed 9-1-1.

And that's when her nightmare really began, according to the account presented at the American Civil Liberties Union's Southern California office this morning.

Although Garcia was the victim of "severe, ongoing domestic violence with a history of 9-1-1 calls and emergency-room visits," she was arrested by LAPD officers who believed her boyfriend's version of the events, according to immigration lawyers and other experts monitoring her case.

Being arrested caused Garcia to faint, so the cops took her to a local hospital, where a doctor found bruises on her body and had to tell police she was a victim of domestic violence. The LAPD went ahead and held her on a felony domestic violence charge, resulting in her being identified by immigration authorities at the time of her booking. 

Police later dropped the felony charge, but Garcia was still transferred by immigration authorities within four days and placed in deportation proceedings. 

On March 26, her boyfriend was arrested on manslaughter charges and remains in custody, according to the ACLU-SC.

"The dangerous message that Isaura's case sends to immigrants who are victims or witnesses to crimes is that if you call the police, you might be deported," Angelica Salas, executive director of the Coalition for Humane Immigrant Rights of Los Angeles, said during this morning's press conference.

Garcia was snared thanks to Secure Communities, the Department of Homeland Security program that requires local police departments to share the fingerprints of arrestees with immigration authorities. While the intention of the program is to identify and deport criminal aliens, in practice it has not always worked out that way for Garcia and other non-criminals, according to Hector Villagra, executive director of the ACLU-SC. "Secure Communities ends up providing security to criminals, including perpetrators of domestic violence," he said today. "This couldn't possibly make our communities more secure."

Garcia echoed those sentiments to those gathered before her. "I still don't understand why I was arrested," she said, "but had I realized I could be arrested after calling 9-1-1 for help and deported, I never would have called."

Those present called for adoption of a state Assembly bill that would protect immigrant crime victims and witnesses from Secure Communities. Illinois has announced its desire to opt out of the federal program, while San Francisco Police Chief Michael Hennessy recently revealed his department will not turn over non-criminals and low-level offenders to immigration authorities identified through Secure Communities.

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ORIGINAL POST, MAY 11, 12:03 P.M.: According to U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE), its Secure Communities program "improves public safety every day by transforming the way criminal aliens are identified and removed from the United States."

It's certainly transforming the way at least one woman was identified as a criminal. Isaura Garcia is now embroiled in deportation proceedings after landing on the Secure Communities radar.

Her "crime"? Reporting to cops the domestic violence she was suffering.

Secure Communities was foisted on us to deport criminals by cross-checking immigration and law-enforcement databases and prioritizing which detainees pose the greatest threat, according to the ICE page for the program.

Civil libertarians are now using Garcia's saga to point to chinks in the feds' armor.

"Although the Secure Communities program purports to target 'criminal aliens,' the case of Isaura Garcia demonstrates that the opposite is true," reads a statement from the American Civil Liberties Union of Southern California (ACLU-SC). "Crime victims and non-criminals are affected by the program in great numbers."

At a press conference in Los Angeles Thursday, critics of Secure Communities will argue the program has led to widespread fear among immigrants, who believe if they witness or are victims of a crime and report it to police, they will be deported. Just like Isaura Garcia.

Among those scheduled to speak are:  Hector Villagra, executive director of ACLU-SC; Jennie Pasquarella of ACLU-SC; Angelica Salas of the Coalition of Humane Immigrant Rights of Los Angeles; and Chris Newman of the National Day Laborers Organizing Network.

Expect to hear support for California Assembly Bill 1081 currently winding through the state Legislature. The so-called TRUST Act aims to lessen the effects of Secure Communities on public safety. Argues the ACLU-SC, "We must give our police the opportunity to promote true public safety."

Sounds just like the original point of Secure Communities.


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