Citizens jailed under immigration program

By E.J. Tamara

Associated Press

Published: Wednesday, Dec. 14 2011 11:25 p.m. MST

LOS ANGELES — Four U.S. citizens were erroneously arrested in Southern California recently through the federal immigration enforcement program called Secure Communities, the American Civil Liberties Union said Wednesday.

The arrests offer another point of tension between immigrant rights groups and Homeland Security, especially after President Barack Obama's administration said the highly criticized local-federal immigration enforcement program would only focus on illegal immigrants with serious criminal records.

Secure Communities, administered by U.S Immigration and Customs Enforcement, allows fingerprint analysis to identify illegal immigrants in county jails.

Immigrant right groups say Secure Communities can discourage immigrants from reporting crimes and can lead to the deportation of people who haven't been convicted of anything.According to the ACLU, three Hispanic men were arrested and put on immigration holds after being processed through Secure Communities in November, and a fourth one went through the same process in July.

One of the men, Antonio Montejano, said he was arrested Nov. 5 in Santa Monica and spent four days in jail after he forgot to pay for candy his kids ate while shopping at a local Sears store.

He was also arrested because a $10 bottle of perfume was not scanned, even though he bought $600 worth of merchandise, the ACLU said.

A Los Angeles County judge ordered Montejano's release, but he was kept jailed because of an immigration hold, the ACLU said.

In jail, no one believed he was a citizen, Montejano recounted, because he speaks with an accent. He said he has split his time between Mexico and the U.S.

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