Phoenix – Members of Arizona's Hispanic community demonstrated Friday against a senior White House official for defending the controversial Secure Communities program in a television documentary.
Cecilia Muñoz, the White House director of Intergovernmental Affairs, made the statement on the PBS program "Lost in Detention" that aired late last month.
The S-COMM program, which requires state and local law enforcement to share all detainees' fingerprints with U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement, has driven deportations of undocumented immigrants to record levels.
"We ask that (Muñoz) explain her statement and tell the truth, since she insists on saying that the immigrants being deported are criminals, and that's just not so," Felipe Matos, an undocumented student and organizer of the group Presente.org, told Efe.
The advocacy group cites ICE statistics showing that a mere 22 percent of the nearly 400,000 people deported in the 2011 fiscal year had convictions for serious offenses.
It is only by redefining "criminal removal" to include people who committed minor infractions that authorities can claim criminals account for half of deportees, according to Presente.org.
Muñoz, a former vice president of the National Council of La Raza, was in Phoenix Thursday taking part in a convention, where a score of pro-immigrant activists tried fruitlessly to enter in order to give her a letter expressing their indignation about her comments.
Muñoz said during the program that half of the people deported in fiscal 2001 had committed crimes.
Former Arizona state legislator Alfredo Gutierrez said that S-COMM is the means by which President Barack Obama's administration has deported a greater number of undocumented immigrants than any of his predecessors.
"It's offensive that a woman like Muñoz, who used to be an activist, is trying to defend the indefensible," Gutierrez said.
He said that the position of the current administration has been to defend S-COMM, whose stated purpose is to deport dangerous criminals, with figures indicating that most of the undocumented are in fact criminals.
"During his presidential campaign, Obama denied it was like that, he fought for the rights of the undocumented, but after being sworn-in as president he changed completely," Gutierrez said.
He said that under the Obama administration the border has become more militarized, with the consequence that undocumented immigrants continue to be slain in remote areas of the Arizona desert.
He said that this policy began with federal program 287(g) and was expanded with S-COMM, under which more than 1 million immigrants have been deported since 2008.
Gutierrez fears the situation won't get any better in the short term.
"If Obama is reelected, this will continue and maybe get worse. If the Republicans win, it will be the same," the former lawmaker said.