Santa Barbara CA is 17th highest on a list of 100s of municipalities across the country in the deportation rate of non criminals. Why would this be the case for a picturesque tourist town on the California coast? One reason is most certainly because Santa Barbara is participating in the federal Secure Communities program administered by and Customs Enforcement Agency (ICE) .
ICE requires the state and local law enforcement agencies of participating communities to automatically forward the fingerprints of all people arrested to them, whether or not the people arrested are guilty, or even in the country legally.
I joined 10 others from West Coast MCC staff in a workshop coordinated by Borderlinks to specifically look at how these national policies are affecting one community. The group included educators and students, social service agencies, law enforcement officials and others from the community.
We are spending billions of dollars as a nation targeting people who are not guilty of serious crimes and often not guilty at all, one presenter told us. Another presented suggested that the Secure Communities program does exactly the opposite of what it is intended to do - it allows crimes to go unreported because people are afraid to do so.
Another presenter suggested the real end game of the program is to have the capacity of deporting all "removeable aliens," about 12 million people, from the country by 2012.
Now why would we want to do that when the facts, rather than the myths, show that immigrants pay teaxes, provide needed services in the work force and add about $10 billion annually to the economy.
Seems to be the challenge is more than about the economy or taking jobs. The challenge is about whether we are willing to accept people who are different than we are, welcoming strangers into our communities.
All the while, during the workshop in Santa Barbara, St. Francis peers in at me and I find myself wondering, what would St. Francis think? Lord, make an instrument of your peace, where there is hatred, let me sow love..." Maybe we can get St. Francis to join the line up of speakers.