"Hey, hey, ho, ho, PEP-Comm has got to go!"
Immigrant organizations kicked off a press conference in SanTana yesterday with chants calling on the city council to denounce a new federal deportation program. The Department of Homeland Security (DHS) rolled out the "Priority Enforcement Program" (known as "PEP-Comm") in place of its disgraced "Secure Communities" predecessor last November.
Activists with Orange County Immigrant Youth United (OCIYU) and RAIZ say there's no significant difference between the two in calling on city leaders to reject the re-branding.
"The new PEP program maintains the engine of S-Comm," OCIYU's Hairo Cortes said in Spanish at the press conference. "Programs like this don't bring security to the community." Activists argued that PEP still strikes fear into the heart of immigrants just as S-Comm did before DHS Secretary Jeh Johnson announced its end in a memo.
The press conference took place outside the Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) field office in Santa Ana. A white DHS vehicle parked conspicuously near the assembled activists beating Spanish-language media to the coveted space. Uniformed in a DHS vest, an agent walked around the press conference, said "What's up" to activists and snapped a photo of this reporter before chatting with a colleague in another van whose lights uselessly shone.
Undeterred by DHS making its presence known, activist groups noted they sent a joint letter to the SanTana city council on Monday. "PEP-Comm will continue to erode community trust in local police because all fingerprints taken by local law enforcement will be transmitted to DHS for an immigration background check," it reads. "Any detentions in response to ICE hold requests under PEP-Comm will continue to expose local law enforcement to legal liability."
Activists held that PEP-Comm is S-Comm by another name save for one minor, technical difference. Instead of issuing legally controversial ICE detainer requests. PEP-Comm opts for "notifications" instead where local law enforcement can notify immigration authorities of when an undocumented person will be released from custody. ICE, then, could ostensibly park a van and lie in wait for them.
Not all detainer requests are abolished, critics argue. The letter sent to SanTana city council further charges that they can continue under PEP for immigrants under a vague "special circumstances" exemption. "What is clear is that by continuing to put responsibility for immigration enforcement on local law enforcement agencies, PEP-Comm is plagued by the same failings of S-Comm," the letter reads.
The previous case of Samuel Sixtos, an undocumented man turned over by Santa Ana Police to the Orange County Sheriff's Department last year, was cited as an example of how local collaboration with ICE can wrongly lead to deportation proceedings despite TRUST Act protections. (Sixtos is now free from a private detention facility in Adelanto).
"We can't trust the police when they are asking us where we are born," RAIZ's Alexis Nava Teodoro said in Spanish at the press conference. The activist mentioned afterward that a meeting with councilman David Benavides is reportedly in the works in response to the letter demanding Santa Ana adopt a "no ICE notification" policy.
"We want the city to take a leadership on a national level."
Follow Gabriel San Román on Twitter @gsanroman2