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Deportation policy expected to draw protests from angry immigrants

SusanChinchillwith her sJustPleitez 4 says she could face deportatiafter running red light.  |  John H. White~Sun-Times

Susana Chinchilla, with her son Justin Pleitez, 4, says she could face deportation after running a red light. | John H. White~Sun-Times

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Updated: November 16, 2011 1:29AM

As Roberto Procopio paid a toll on Interstate 88 on Saturday night, an Illinois State Trooper pointed to his missing front license plate and asked for his driver’s license.

Procopio — an illegal immigrant — didn’t have one, his family says. He had been busted before for driving without a license and skipped court, so the trooper arrested him.

The mechanic and 29-year-old father of two isn’t a violent criminal. But his family says he now faces potential deportation, thanks to the federal “Secure Communities” program, which automatically shares arrestees’ fingerprints and details with Immigration and Customs Enforcement.

Touted as protecting citizens from dangerous convicts, the program could split thousands more families, erode trust between immigrant communities and police and cost the president Latino votes if his administration pushes ahead with plans to make it mandatory nationwide, protesters warned Tuesday.

Department of Homeland Security officials are due to host what’s likely to be a heated town hall meeting in Chicago Wednesday about the program.

Just 26 of Illinois’ 102 counties currently participate., including include DuPage, where Procopio was arrested. But the Department of Homeland Security recently told Gov. Pat Quinn and the governors of two other states they can no longer opt out.

Angry immigrants are expected to pack Wednesday’s 6 p.m. meeting at the IBEW Hall, 600 W. Washington Blvd.

“We came to this country for the same reason as everyone else, to work,” said Procopio’s common-law wife, Sonia Perez, one of three dozen protesters at a news conference Tuesday in Pilsen.

“If they take him, I don’t know what I’ll do,” she said, sobbing.

As protesters chanted “Hey, hey, Obama, don’t take away my mama,” Susana Chinchilla, 24, said she is facing deportation after being picked up for running a red light in South Holland in November. Though she was not charged with a criminal offense, she said, police referred her case to Immigration.

Immigration officials say they prioritize cases where criminal charges have been filed and emphasize that most immigrants detained under the Secure Communities program are accused of more serious crimes. They recently issued a memo urging agents to use “discretion” in handling non-priority cases, they say.

Statistics from Cook County — which is not part of the program but where Immigration agents can manually check arrestees’ identities through state records — support their claims.

Just two of the 278 inmates held for Immigration at Cook County Jail face driving charges, while 29 are charged with murder, Sheriff’s spokesman Steve Patterson said.

If Cook County was forced to join the program, “I don’t know that we’ll see a big change,” he said.

Protest organizer Emma Lozano disagreed, saying the program would make it “much easier for [Immigration] to sweep people up.”

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