Perez: Illegal immigration program a sham

Kane County Sheriff Pat Perez said Wednesday a federal program billed as a crackdown on violent illegal immigrants has failed to do anything but harm police work and further burden taxpayers.

Perez participated in an interview with national media Wednesday to decry the Secure Communities program. Illinois dropped its participation in the program earlier this month, but Kane County was one of the first local communities to buy into the program in November 2009.

Secure Communities encouraged county jails to send fingerprints of criminal suspects to the state police. The state police would then make the fingerprints available to Immigration and Customs Enforcement officials to run through their database.

“The program was pitched to us in law enforcement as a cooperative between ICE and local law enforcement to take the worst offenders out of the system and deport them,” Perez said. “Any cop worth his salt is going to get behind that kind of program. Whether they are in this country legally or illegally, if they are a violent offender, you want them gone.”

But Perez said he quickly found ICE didn't seem to be interested in violent offenders.

“All of a sudden we were having people deported for not having a valid driver's license,” Perez said. “Some of these were people who hadn't even gone to trial yet.”

A study by the Illinois Coalition for Immigrant and Refugee Rights showed Perez his experience wasn't an anomaly. DuPage, Kane, Lake and McHenry counties all saw up to 88 percent of the illegal aliens swept up by ICE had initially been picked up on minor offenses. Of the 248 illegal immigrants held by ICE in DuPage County from November 2009 to July 2010, 172 of them were arrested on nonviolent offenses. Kane County saw 191 of the 234 illegal immigrants they arrested taken by ICE after nonviolent criminal arrests.

To be sure, some violent criminals were arrested as well. Twenty-five of DuPage County's 248 ICE arrests had offenses related to homicide, sexual assault, felony drug offenses or crimes of a similar nature. Kane County saw 9 of its 234 ICE arrests fall into that category. Lake County's numbers were even lower than that and Sheriff Mark Curran became one of the leading advocates of ditching Secure Communities. Perez has joined him in that effort in hopes of sparking true federal immigration reform.

“Is it wrong for them to be in this country illegally? Yes,” Perez said. “But if you have an illegal immigrant who's married with two kids here, and he gets deported for not having a driver's license, now his wife and kids with no income become wards of the system. Where does that help for them come from? Who pays for that?”

Illegal immigrants who commit a felony or a misdemeanor will always be arrested in Kane County, Perez said. That's where change he can support can happen. Perez said he favors a law that flags any illegal immigrant arrested and convicted of a felony for deportation. Perez said there are more than 3,000 inmates in Illinois' jails and prisons and that fit that description right now.