The Swarm

Mix it up with The Bee's editorial board.

June 17, 2011
Feds announce redo of 'Secure Communities' program

Responding to a growing chorus of criticism, federal immigration officials are revamping a program designed to deport dangerous criminals.

To address concerns that too many low-level offenders are being netted, U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement Director John Morton announced Friday that the Secure Communities program will be changed to focus more on those convicted of serious crimes.

A new advisory panel that includes local law enforcement officials and immigration advocates will come up with recommendations on how, for instance, to stop the deportation of people arrested, but not convicted, of minor traffic offenses who have no criminal history or serious immigration violations.

To deal with concerns that ethnic profiling is going on and that community policing is being hampered, there will be more training.

And to avoid cases where victims of domestic violence are deported, a new policy directs immigration officers to use discretion so that they and other crime victims aren't swept up.

"We need to do a better job of ensuring that the program is more focused on targeting those that pose the biggest risk to communities," Morton said in a statement. "Today we are undertaking several reforms--developed in collaboration with our law enforcement partners and other stakeholders--that help us achieve that goal and will improve and strengthen the program."

Officials and advocates in California have been at the forefront of pushing for change. A bill that would require that counties "opt in" to the program was passed May 26 by the Assembly and is in the Senate committee process.

The Bee editorial board also called for the program to be overhauled.

UPDATE: Some advocates blasted the changes as merely cosmetic and called for a moratorium on the program until more comprehensive reform.

"Today's announcement by ICE is simply window dressing," Assemblyman Tom Ammiano, D-San Francisco, who is the bill's author, said in a statement.

"How many more innocent people have to be swept up by the ironically named Secure Communities program before the Obama administration will change course? Talking about the need for comprehensive immigration reform is not an excuse for continuing with a flawed, unjust program that is having tragic consequences for communities across the country," he added.

Under Secure Communities, the fingerprints of everyone arrested by participating local law enforcement agencies are run through federal immigration databases.

In California, nearly 1.8 million sets of fingerprints were checked from when the program started here in May 2009 through the end of March. Of those, 172,000 were matched to illegal immigrants and nearly 39,000 were deported.

Nearly 12,000 of those deported had been convicted of violent crimes or major drug offenses. But about 16,000 were deported for lesser crimes, and nearly 11,000 were "noncriminals" - those without any convictions, though they may have had gang affiliations or have been deported previously.

June 3, 2011
Is Sacramento's planning commission representative enough?

It's definitely a curiosity: Of the 11 members on the city of Sacramento's Planning Commission, six live in District 4 and another three in District 3. That's nine members from just two districts, while four districts -- 2, 5, 6 and 7 --- aren't represented at all.

But it's not clear whether the imbalance makes much difference in the commission's decision-making.

The concentration was worsened this week with the latest appointment: Darrell Fong, the new councilman in District 7, nominated William Wong, a close political ally who lives in District 4.

UPDATE: Wong responded by saying that while he doesn't live in the district, he has strong ties to residents there and has "already reached out to make sure that I have regular meetings to discuss District 7 concerns."

In an email, he also pointed out that he has lived in Sacramento since 1991 and has 20 years of public policy experience, including serving as a consultant to the Senate Housing and Community Development Committee, working at an advocacy group on rent control and affordable housing and serving on the Sacramento Human Rights/Fair Housing Commission.

For many years, planning commissioners were all chosen citywide. In late 2009, the City Council expanded the panel from nine to 11 members - two chosen at large and one picked by each of the eight council members and mayor. But there's no requirement that council members nominate someone from their district.

The over-representation is partly a product of many planning types living in Districts 3 and 4, which include east Sacramento, midtown, Land Park, etc.

The current commission is seen as diligent, doing its homework wherever a particular project happens to be. Still, it wouldn't hurt to have someone who lives in the district to weigh in.

Some of the highest-profile planning cases lately were in districts not directly represented on the commission: the poultry plant-SPCA kerfuffle earlier this year was in District 6, while the much-debated Curtis Park Village project last year was in District 5 and the Iceland skating rink issue last year was in District 2.

While the commission is one of the city's more powerful appointed boards, major and controversial projects are invariably appealed to the council, which does have district representation.

Any correction to the imbalance will take a while, barring any resignations. Commission members serve four-year terms and the next openings - three of them - don't happen until January. And two of those seats, in Districts 1 and 3, are already filled by people who reside in those districts.

Expertise is certainly important. But so is representation.

Council members ought to at least think about it.

June 2, 2011
League of Women Voters ads cause consternation

The Bee's editorial board says the League of Women Voters is making a mistake with its new, more aggressive direction and risking its long-cultivated reputation as a nonpartisan, good government group.

The league says it had to do something different to get attention for its support of the Clean Air Act so it launched TV ads accusing two U.S. senators of protecting polluters over people.

But the spots have caused heartache among some league members, who see it as a troubling departure.

Here are the two ads so you can judge for yourself whether the group has crossed the line into negative campaigning of the kind done by ideological advocacy groups.

The first goes after Sen. Scott Brown, a Massachusetts Republican.

The second criticizes Sen. Claire McCaskill, a Missouri Democrat.

June 1, 2011
Grand jury bill progresses, but has been defanged

A bill aimed at California's civil grand juries could reach the floor for a final Assembly vote as soon as today.

But it will be missing what many opponents saw as its most objectionable part.

Assembly Bill 622 would have required that witnesses testify in public session, except for confidential personnel matters. Critics warned that change would have a chilling effect on whistleblowers and that witnesses would be less willing to testify candidly. And that would hurt the ability of grand juries to go after fraud and abuse in local governments, the bill's foes said.

That provision was excised because it would have added costs to local governments as the bill passed the Assembly Appropriations Committee on a party-line vote last Friday.

The bill still calls for the subjects of grand jury reports to have at least 45 days to respond before the reports become public. The measure also says that witnesses should be able to have lawyers at their side while testifying.

Opponents, who include former and current grand jury members in Sacramento County and elsewhere, say those requirements are unnecessary and would get in the way.

The measure is being pushed by new Assemblyman Roger Dickinson, who came under fire from Sacramento County grand juries while he was a county supervisor. He says there needs to be more transparency for grand juries so they don't run amok and abuse their power.

The Bee's editorial board concluded that while grand juries have made some mistakes, there's no evidence there are widespread problems - and no compelling reason to change what have been important watchdogs over local government.

About The Swarm

The Swarm is written by members of The Sacramento Bee's editorial board. They meet daily and are separate from the newsroom. Views included here are those of individual writers, and do not necessarily reflect those of a majority of the board or the positions expressed in The Bee's editorials.

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