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The net cast for illegal immigrants in Sonoma County shrank dramatically in the past year — with far fewer people turned over to the federal government for being in the country without permission.

The reasons for that change are hard to pinpoint. But it corresponds chronologically to a decision that local law enforcement agencies — urged on by advocates for illegal immigrants' rights — made last year to accept Mexican consular cards as valid identification.

That meant officers in the field who were confident of the identity of a person they contacted could check them against records, and did not always have to take that person to jail to find out if they were wanted or otherwise posed a threat.

Since the new policy took effect, local authorities have turned over just under half as many people as they previously did to Immigration and Customs Enforcement under the federal agency's Secure Communities program, according to data the agency provided.

The Secure Communities program is promoted as a way to identify, capture and deport dangerous illegal immigrants. It requires the Sheriff's Office to send to Immigration and Customs Enforcement, or ICE, the fingerprints and other biometric data of all people booked at the Sonoma County Jail.

ICE places those flagged for immigration violations on hold, regardless of the seriousness of their alleged offense and the outcome of their case.

In its first year of operation in Sonoma County, from March 2010 to March 2011, the program forwarded data from 20,783 inmates to ICE. In that period, illegal immigrants were turned over to ICE at a rate of 78 a month.

In the 11-month period ending Aug. 31, 2012, the most recent period for which such data is available, the jail submitted identifying information for 18,264 inmates to ICE, at a rate that was 4 percent lower than in the program's first year.

But in that period, the number of people turned over to the government plummeted to an average of 44 people a month, a drop of 47 percent, according to ICE data obtained by The Press Democrat.

“It's alarming,” said Steve Giraud of Petaluma, director of the NorCal Chapter of the Border Patrol Auxiliary, a proponent of tighter enforcement of immigration laws.

“That means the individuals are still in this county, using or abusing public aid and displacing American workers,” he said.

But the drop has delighted advocates who had argued that too many people were being forced into deportation proceedings who didn't deserve to be.

“It certainly is welcome news; the majority of those being turned over to ICE don't pose a threat to our community,” said Jesus Guzman, who heads the immigration task force at the North Bay Organizing Project, a coalition of immigration, labor, conservation and bicycle activists.

On Oct. 23, 2011, the Sheriff's Office and the Santa Rosa Police Department announced they would begin accepting consular cards — also known as matricula consulars — as valid identification, which had been the goal of a yearlong Organizing Project campaign.

The card is a form of official registration for Mexican nationals, legal or not, who live within a consulate office's jurisdiction.

At that time, the Sonoma County Law Enforcement Chiefs Association also changed part of its policy on undocumented immigrants, saying “officers should accept matricular identification cards issued by the Mexican Consulate as valid ID” unless there is reason to believe they are fake or have been tampered with.

The group left implementation of the policy to the discretion of individual police chiefs; Petaluma and Sebastopol also now accept the consular cards as an ID.

Since then, the ICE data shows, 484 people have been handed over to the federal agency under Secure Communities, compared to 921 in the program's first year in Sonoma County.

To advocates, it signals a resounding success.

“That was a community organizing victory,” Guzman said. “And it certainly goes to the credit of Sheriff (Steve) Freitas and the (Santa Rosa Police) Department for taking a more enlightened approach than law enforcement in many other communities.”

“It's a huge step forward,” said Christopher Kerosky of Sebastopol, an immigration attorney who practices in the North Bay and San Francisco.

But to Giraud, the change is anything but a victory. He finds the potential relationship between the matricula policy and the subsequent drop in the number of people being turned over to ICE deeply troubling.

“If this is a trend, this may only be the beginning then for counties to ultimately defy federal law and snub their noses at it, due to special interest group pressure,” he said.

Among local law enforcement officials, however, there is less certainty that the decline in the number of people being handed over to ICE has to do with the consular card policy.

Santa Rosa Police Capt. Hank Schreeder, who announced his department's decision at the October 2011 meeting, called the numbers “interesting” but said data that might support or disprove the connection was not available to be reviewed last week.

Santa Rosa officers always were able to accept the consular card as an ID, he said. What's changed since 2011 is that department-wide trainings were instituted to teach officers how to detect fraudulent cards “so they had a greater sense of comfort.”

“What I will say is, officers have the discretion to use the matricular card as the basis for identification for issuing a citation for infractions and potentially some misdemeanors in the field,” Schreeder said.

But Assistant Sonoma County Sheriff Lorenzo Duenas, who called it “a great day” when he announced the policy change last October, said last week that at least some decline was foreseen.

“We knew that the matricular card was going to have some effect, because basically the goal is to cite in the field and not arrest them for petty crimes,” he said. “We knew it would make some difference; we can't say how much.”

Incorporating the matricula into the pantheon of accepted identification benefits both police and the undocumented immigrant community, said Aarti Kohli of UC Berkeley, co-author of a 2011 analysis of Secure Communities' data that concluded the program needs more checks and balances.

“What you find is, if someone is pulled over without identification, for law enforcement, that raises questions and they tend to err on the side of bringing folks to jail,” said Kohli, senior fellow at the Warren Institute at the UC Berkeley law school.

“If you can determine that this person is who they say they are, that gets rid of the additional uncertainty,” Kohli said. “I think what's happening in Sonoma is really instructive. It's telling us something: if people have identification they are perceived as much less of a threat.”

That's a positive development, said Tiah-Marie Foley, who nearly lost her arms in 1998 after an unlicensed, illegal immigrant driver crashed into her car in Glen Ellen.

“I never thought I'd be on that side,” said the Santa Rosa woman. “But if it (the policy) is working for the Sheriff's Office and police departments, it's working for me. If the number is cut in half, and just the felons are getting turned over to ICE, it's wonderful.”

The Sheriff's Office still views Secure Communities as “a tool law enforcement can use to mitigate violent criminals in our community,” Duenas said.

Accepting consular cards does not diminish that, he said, and, if anything, makes law enforcement's job easier by allowing it to identify more people with more certainty.

“Having a matricula card isn't a get-out-of-jail card,” he said, noting that it would no more prevent a deputy from arresting someone than would someone's having a valid driver's license.

“If it's firm, fair and a compassionate way to enforce the law, we want to go that way. Anything that could help us work to make the community safer and not clog up our system to make it more efficient is a win-win for the community and for us,” he said.

ICE has criticized actions that clearly cut against Secure Communities, such as a Cook County, Ill., law barring officials from turning over illegal immigrants to the agency if they do not have serious criminal convictions or outstanding warrants.

But in less clear-cut cases they have been silent, sensitive to concerns that the program makes local law enforcement agencies a partner in enforcing federal immigration law.

“There are some law enforcement agencies declining to honor ICE detainers and we've expressed concern about that, but in terms of how local law enforcement goes about its duties on the street, I think we need to honor local law enforcement,” ICE spokeswoman Virgina Kice said last week when asked about the matricula policy in Sonoma County.

This article originally appeared in the Press Democrat on November 24, 2012 and is available here:

Requiring people to have a photo ID is the equivalent of a poll tax, U.S. House assistant minority leader James Clyburn, D-S.C., said during a stop in Springfield Wednesday.

Clyburn attended a roundtable discussion on voter rights at Union Baptist Church, 1405 E. Monroe St., sponsored by the Faith Coalition for the Common Good. He said he is traveling across the country to encourage people to vote.

Clyburn is a co-sponsor of the Voter Empowerment Act, a measure designed to protect voting rights in the wake of dozens of states passing laws adding restrictions to voting.

He said certain states issue IDs both with and without photos. That can require someone to purchase a second ID with a photo just to be able to vote, he said.

“Are you trying to identify people, or are you trying to identify certain people?” Clyburn said.

Illinois does not require a photo ID to vote.

This article originally appeared in the State Journal-Register on October 24, 2012 and is available here:

By Eric Doherty

According to NDP MP Olivia Chow, understanding Stephen Harper's climate policy is easy: just look at federal funding for public transit over the last four years. Transport Canada figures show that federal transit funding has plunged from a modest $1.1 billion in 2008 to about $300 million in 2011 (see graph).

If the trend continues, federal transit funding could drop to zero within the next few years.

In contrast, federal support to road building and airports has increased significantly since 2008 under the Conservatives. Road spending averaged over $1.5 billion per year and has never dropped below the 1.04 billion spent in 2008/09. Similarly, support to carbon-intensive air travel has increased from $800 to $900 million.

Olivia Chow: Conservatives lack commitment to reducing greenhouse gas emissions 

 In an email interview with, Chow, NDP Critic for Transport, Infrastructure and Communities, said the Conservative government's transportation spending record and other actions shows a lack of commitment to reducing the greenhouse gas emissions causing global warming.

"It is obvious that the Conservatives are not interested in lowering Canada's carbon emissions. From the unbridled development of the tar sands to the cutting of programs like ecoEnergy (for making homes more energy-efficient) to the trashing of the Kyoto Protocol. Realistically, we need a change in government to make the reduction of Canada's greenhouse gas emissions a priority again," Chow wrote.

More importantly, Chow states her cautious support for greening the blacktop budget -- shifting federal spending from high-carbon modes such as urban freeways and airports to low-carbon modes such as electric passenger rail, public transit and cycling: "Where feasible, federal transit dollars should favour green technology and low-carbon modes of transportation."

This is a significant step towards an NDP transportation strategy that really addresses the challenge of slashing carbon emissions from the transportation sector. Chow should be applauded for this courageous move; it puts her and the NDP out in front of most Canadian environmental groups. But, strange as it may seem to Canadians still used to being the good guys, many U.S. environmental groups and unions are far ahead of their Canadian colleagues.

U.S. environmental groups campaign for low-carbon transportation

In the U.S. major environmental groups including the Sierra Club USA have well established campaigns opposing spending on roadway expansion and supporting increased spending on transit and other low-carbon transportation.

In the U.S. there are also multiple coalitions that call for funding re-allocation to low-carbon modes, including Transportation for America which includes the Amalgamated Transit Union, the International Brotherhood of Teamsters, and the Transport Workers Union of America, among a diverse list of over 500 groups. Many U.S. groups have adopted the slogan 'fix it first' to campaign for an end to wasteful spending on wider roads while existing roads and other infrastructure crumble from lack of maintenance and repair.

The supposedly hopeless car lovers in the U.S. are seeing the writing on the wall thanks to groups like the Sierra Club USA, unions and businesses working together. In 2008 Seattle area voters approved a transit-only initiative called Sound Transit, after earlier rejecting a scheme with a 'balance' of freeway and transit spending. Sound Transit’s advantages were explained to voters as follows: "The plan rapidly increases express bus and commuter rail service and creates a 53-mile regional light rail system - all with a lower price tag, faster delivery dates and more public accountability than last year's roads-and-transit package." Even sprawling suburban counties backed the initiative.

In contrast, Canadian groups like the David Suzuki Foundation and the Sierra Club of Canada support transit and cycling but mainly avoid mentioning spending on roadway expansion. One key exception is the Wilderness Committee which has been actively campaigning for re-allocating funds from roads to transit for years; their latest effort is the Transit Not Tankers petition calling on governments to "shift from spending our money on new highways to investing it in public transit and passenger rail." 

In Canada transportation accounts for about 50 per cent of energy-related carbon emissions when full lifecycle emissions are included -- sources such as extracting and refining oil from the tar sands, road and bridge construction and maintenance, and vehicle manufacturing. Tailpipe emissions alone make up about a third of greenhouse gas emissions. The percentage of oil consumed for transportation is even larger, making transportation the dominant consumer of oil in Canada.

A growing proportion of our gasoline, diesel and jet fuel is refined from tar sands bitumen, oil from fracking operations, and extreme deep-sea wells which are even more carbon intensive and polluting that conventional oil.

Shifting to transit can mean green jobs and social justice 

So far, most Canadian environmental groups have approached global warming as if it was a minor problem that could be solved with timid half measures, like adding a bit of public transit while expanding roadways. This is like applying the brakes with one foot while keeping your other firmly on the gas. It is not at all surprising that the National Transit Strategy Chow and the federal NDP have been promoting until recently follows this same half-measures approach.

In the U.S., environmental groups along with unions in alliances such as Transportation for America have been touting the green jobs and social justice benefits that would be created by shifting investment to transit, making it easier for politicians to actually implement these changes. 

The U.S.-based Transportation Equity Network report More Transit = More Jobs analyzed 20 U.S. metropolitan areas and concluded that shifting half of highway funds to transit would result in a net gain of 180,000 jobs — with no additional spending required.

The report also proposes focusing more on immediate improvements to transit service rather than resource intensive capital investments (such as subway construction) as a way of boosting job creation. "Transit operations generate more jobs per dollar spent than transit capital spending because transit operations are more labor-intensive and do not involve significant non-labor inputs, such as land acquisition or materials."

Taking on Big Oil 

In Canada, progressive politicians such as Chow are going up against Big Oil and the blacktop lobby with few visible allies. But the evidence that shifting public resources to transit is a good way of creating more jobs is just as strong in Canada as in the U.S.

The Canadian Urban Transit Association says that "a $1 million transit expenditure creates an average of 21.4 new jobs, compared to 7.5 jobs for the same automotive expense, or just 4.5 jobs in the petroleum industry." A Sustainable Prosperity Canada report ranks investments in public transit as the #1 green employment option for Canada, whereas freeway and bridge expansions were ranked #21 -- third from last. Building cycling and pedestrian infrastructure has also been shown to produce more jobs per dollar than road expansion. 

The best thing about greening the federal blacktop budget is that it would make our cities less polluted and more affordable. It would mean that families would not be forced to strain their budgets having to own and operate multiple cars and pay for increasingly expensive gas. It would means healthier communities with less pollution where more people get adequate exercise by walking and cycling. 

Greening the blacktop budget is not just a nice little idea – it is one of the essential changes that we must make. Now that Olivia Chow and the NDP have taken the first cautious step, it is time for Canadian environmental groups and other progressive organizations to catch up. Quickly.

This article originally appeared on on November 21, 2012 and is available here:


KALAMAZOO, MI -- More than 9,000 people have been added to the Kalamazoo County voter rolls since July, which means the county is well on track to setting a new record in the number of registered voters.

As of the end of the day Monday, the county had 192,409 registered voters, with another week to go before the Oct. 9 registration deadline for the Nov. 6 election, Kalamazoo County Clerk Tim Snow said.

Snow said there will be  additions and subtractions to the current list over the next week as new voters continue to register and people who have moved within the state change their registrations to reflect their new address.

In 2008, the last presidential election, Kalamazoo County had 191,717 registered voters, and 131,550 actually cast a ballot that November.

Because Kalamazoo County has a large college-age population, the number of registered voters can be misleading since the lists are bloated by students and others who have moved from the area but cannot legally be removed from rolls.

Snow said most of the new registrations in recent weeks are coming from drives being conducted at Western Michigan University.

"We're getting a bunch (of new registrations), especially from campus," Snow said. 

He said that volunteers working with ISAAC, a progressive coalition of Kalamazoo churches and advocacy groups, have been especially active in signing up new voters.

"They're doing an excellent job," Snow said, and have been especially conscientious about making sure the forms are filed out correctly and that the information has been verified.

People can easily check online at to see if and where they are registered to vote. 

Those who still need to register can file out the paperwork at their county clerk or township/city clerk's office or download the registration form online from the Michigan Secretary of State website.

Although the form can be printed off online, it must be submitted by mail because the form needs a signature, Snow said.

He also cautioned that people who are registering to vote by mail must appear in person to obtain their ballot. That means, for instance, a college student who registers by mail must either pick up his or her absentee ballot in person from a local election clerk or vote on Election Day.  

There is an exception for people who hand deliver the registration form to a clerk's office, who are disabled or are eligible to vote through the Uniformed and Overseas Citizens Absentee Voting Act.

People already registered to vote can obtain an absentee ballot by mail, and those ballots should be available by the end of this week, Snow said. 

The form to obtain an absentee ballot also is on the Secretary of State website.


WXOW News 19 La Crosse, WI – News, Weather and Sports |

LA CROSSE, Wisconsin (WXOW) – Members of our community gathered Monday to brainstorm about ways to fight and prevent child poverty.

Children and Poverty: A Community Crisis, was a forum sponsored by La Crosse's AMOS organization, the Franciscan Sisters of Perpetual Adoration, the League of Women Voters, Viterbo University, the La Crosse County Human Services Department & Family Policy Board, and the Wisconsin Council on Children and Families.

Jim Moeser, of the WCCF, said La Crosse County has the second highest child poverty rate in the state.

He defined a poor child as one living in a household with an income of $22-thousand or less.

Monday's forum also featured presentations and small group discussion with the goal of finding ways our community can combat child poverty.

Lawmakers from the County Board and La Crosse City Council, as well as state lawmakers Jill Billings (D, 95thAssembly), Jennifer Shilling (D, 32nd Senate) and Steve Doyle (D, 94th Assembly) were all in attendance.