Testimony for the D.C. City Council Immigration Detainer Compliance Amendment of 2011

The District is considering ending the cooperation between local law enforcement and ICE, and I was one of the many to testify at a hearing on Friday. I would like to thank Sarahi Uribe from NDLON for sharing her story and also for giving me a chance to speak at the hearing.

Dear Council Members,

Thank you for giving me a chance to speak on the Immigration Detainer Compliance Bill in front of you today. My name is Prerna Lal and I am one of the founders of DreamActivist.org, a national network of immigrant youth.

My parents immigrated to this country when I was about 14 and they became legal residents over time. Right now, I am pursuing my second graduate degree at The George Washington University Law School. And despite the fact that I appear accomplished on paper, I’m undocumented. I’m one of the thousands of immigrant youth who have grown up in this country and know no other home. And since I live in D.C., I am taxed without representation twice over.

Today I am representing immigrants like me across the country, who have been targeted, placed in deportation proceedings due to Secure Communities, and fighting to live in the only country we call our home. Every X-mas and New Year, when my law school peers are on vacation, I remain busy getting undocumented youth across the country out of detention facilities — young people who are mostly in detention due to minor traffic violations.

I don’t know how many of us can say that about ourselves but the reality is that undocumented youth can be detained and deported for as little as a traffic violation, due to Secure Communities. To give you just one example, In Texas, a young student was pulled over by the police for a broken tail-light. Since she did not have driver’s license, the local police held her in jail overnight and handed her over to ICE. This was two years ago. This particular student is still fighting deportation proceedings even while attending law school. And lets be clear about one thing: she has no criminal record.

The stories are many. The circumstances are similar. It’s hard to ignore the truth that this country has made criminals out of thousands of people. People like me.

“Secure Communities” is not about finding and deporting “dangerous criminals.” It’s about securing the country from the growing presence of immigrants who are mostly brown-skinned. And the real fugitive of this story is Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) — a rogue agency that is keen on deporting anyone who looks different regardless of their immigration status. Last year, our wonderful friends at ICE deported a 4-year old U.S. citizen girl to Guatemala and a 14-year old U.S. citizen teenager to Colombia. And these are not the only U.S. citizens they have deported. But like any agency, ICE has a litany of excuses.

We are mistakenly racially profiled. We are mistakenly arrested. We are mistakenly rounded up and sent to private detention facilities away from our homes and families. We are mistakenly deported thousands of miles to a foreign country, with little hope of ever seeing our families again. Mistakenly. It may be a mistake for local police and maybe even ICE, but that one mistake costs us our whole lives.

That mistake is the difference between whether a child ends up in foster care or has a stable family home. That mistake is the difference between a mother fighting to survive after the deportation of her son or a mother who is able to fund her daughter’s education so that the whole family can beat the cycle of poverty. That one mistake is the difference between my presence in front of you today or my deportation to a country where I can be killed for my sexual orientation.

As an undocumented resident who lives, works and attends school in the District, Secure Communities is a misnomer that only serves to make me insecure. If I am a victim of a crime, I cannot go local law enforcement with a program like Secure Communities in place for fear that they would report me to ICE. If I witness an accident, I am too terrified to come forward and help with a police investigation. If I get into an accident, my first reaction is always to flee the scene regardless of how hurt I am because the police may do more damage.

Logic then dictates that the real mistake is the so-called Secure Communities, which makes entire communities insecure and undermines both law enforcement efforts and community policing.

Therefore, I strongly urge the DC City Council to pass the immigration detainer compliance bill with the amendments suggested by Ms. Altman so that hard-working, productive people like me are not turned over to ICE by local police for minor infractions.

Photo Courtesy: Lizbeth Mateo

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