Secure Communities deals with states scrubbed…but ICE will continue to get fingerprint data and deport criminal aliensSaturday, August 6th, 2011
From the Arizona Republic August 6, 2011:
by Daniel González- Aug. 6, 2011 12:00 AM
The Arizona Republic
U.S. immigration officials, who for months have insisted that states sign up to participate in a controversial program to identify and deport immigrants who commit crimes, abruptly changed their approach Friday and terminated agreements with nearly 40 states.
In a letter to governors, John Morton, head of Immigration and Customs Enforcement, said the government was terminating Secure Communities agreements with nearly 40 states, including Arizona, after determining that the federal government does not need the agreement or cooperation of state officials to legally run the program.
In the letter, a copy of which was obtained by The Arizona Republic, Morton said the decision to terminate the agreements would not affect the operation of the program.
Routine fingerprints of crime suspects by local law enforcement are automatically screened by federal immigration authorities.
The Obama administration, as it tries to demonstrate that it is tough on border security and illegal immigration, has pushed to expand the program nationwide.
The decision to terminate the agreements and move forward without them comes after Democratic governors of several states said they would no longer participate in the program amid concerns that it makes immigrants afraid to report crimes to police.
It also shows that the administration is determined to move forward despite objections from immigrant advocates that the program also is deporting thousands of low-level offenders in addition to serious criminals.
“ICE continues to work with its law-enforcement partners across the country to responsibly and effectively implement this federal information sharing capability and plans to reach complete nationwide activation by 2013,” Nicole Navas, an ICE spokeswoman in Washington, D.C., said in an e-mail.
Arizona was among the first states to embrace the program, which was launched in October 2008.
All 15 counties in Arizona are participating in the program, which is currently in effect in more than 1,500 counties in 43 states.
Under the program, the fingerprints of every person booked into jails are shared with the Department of Homeland Security. Immigration officials screen the fingerprints to identify immigration violators and illegal immigrants so that they can be arrested and deported.
Immigration officials said they don’t need the cooperation of state officials because local law enforcement, as a matter of practice, run the fingerprints of crime suspects through an FBI database to see if they are wanted in connection with other crimes.
The FBI will relay those fingerprints to the Department of Homeland Security.
The program has resulted in the deportation of more than 15,000 immigrants from Arizona and more than 101,000 immigrants nationwide.
Through April 30, more than 77,000 immigrants convicted of crimes were identified through the program and removed from the country, according to ICE.
That figure includes more than 28,000 convicted of aggravated felonies such as murder, rape and the sexual abuse of children.
Still, the program has faced mounting criticism from immigrant advocates who said it takes a dragnet approach to immigration enforcement that results in the deportation of traffic violators and other low-level offenders in addition to serious criminals.
An Arizona Republic analysis of ICE data in March found that 60 percent of the illegal immigrants deported nationwide during the first 2½ years of the program had either no criminal record or had been convicted of low-level offenses.
Sixty-six percent in Arizona had no criminal record or were low-level offenders.
Salvador Reza, an immigrant advocate in Phoenix, said he was disappointed that the administration is moving forward with the program.
“The Secure Communities program should be eliminated, not made mandatory,” Reza said. “The program is causing a lot of havoc. It does not differentiate between a killer and a jay walker. It’s tearing apart families.”
In June, Morton said ICE was revamping the program to make sure it focused on the government’s primary goal of identifying and deporting serious criminals, but he emphasized that the changes would not restrict the program from deporting less-serious offenders.
He also said the program was mandatory even though ICE officials earlier had portrayed the program as voluntary and said states could opt out later if they wished.
He said then that the number of criminals and serious offenders deported under the program has been increasing, while the number of non-criminals removed through the program has been decreasing.
COMMENTARY: Would really be nice if the federal government could make the fingerprinting of arrested people work to deport real criminal aliens and not traffic offenders and crime victims.
Press Release from Rights Working Group August 5, 2011:
August 5, 2011, Washington, D.C — Today the Department of Homeland Security’s (DHS) Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) agency has demonstrated that it has gone completely rogue. Since rolling out the Secure Communities program in 2008, ICE has signed over 1,200 Memoranda of Agreement (MOAs) with jurisdictions agreeing to participate in the program.
This afternoon, ICE announced, shockingly, that it will unilaterally rescind the MOAs and proceed with Secure Communities without the agreement of state and local jurisdictions.
Contrary to the announcement of John Sandweg, Counselor to the DHS Secretary and Deputy Secretary, the federal statute that Sandweg cites as mandating participation in Secure Communities does nothing of the kind. It requires information sharing but does not require states to participate in this initiative, nor does it require the deportation of migrants who have been arrested but not yet convicted of crimes.
ICE insists that Secure Communities is mandatory and will become fully operational in every jurisdiction of the country by 2013. Rights Working Group denounces ICE’s actions.
“Across the country, local jurisdictions and states have publicly rejected the Secure Communities program and have told the federal government that they do not want Secure Communities destroying their communities, separating families, and encouraging discriminatory police practices such as racial profiling. For ICE to thumb their nose at the decisions of elected officials to withdraw from the program is without legal basis and offensive,” said Margaret Huang, Executive Director of Rights Working Group.
Due to the public outcry about the program and the dangers it poses to community policing and safety, as well as the program’s violations of long-held principles of due process and fairness, several states and localities have demanded to opt out of Secure Communities. Most recently, governors of New York, Illinois, and Massachusetts have informed ICE that their states will no longer participate in the program.
Rights Working Group has long denounced the lack of transparency and accountability in the implementation of Secure Communities. Investigative reporters and documents received through a Federal of Information Act lawsuit unraveled ICE’s inaccurate statements and reversals of opinion on these MOAs—leading Congresswoman Zoe Lofgren (D-CA) and Senator Robert Menendez (D-NJ) to call for an investigation of the initiative.The Congressional Hispanic Caucus has urged the Obama Administration to place an immediate moratorium on Secure Communities.
Said Huang: “Secure Communities keeps local police from fulfilling their core mission of protecting our communities because when local police target people to enforce immigration law, it increases the level of fear and makes it far more difficult to gain community trust.” The vast majority of undocumented battered women are already reluctant to report their abuse to police for fear of detention and deportation. Secure Communities and similar programs make it even less likely that migrant witnesses and victims will come forward.
“This Administration can no longer continue to stand by Secure Communities,” said Huang. “By continuing to support this program they are sanctioning racial profiling, eroding the trust local law enforcement agencies have built with communities of color and showing the international community that our immigration system does not respect the basic human rights of all persons in our country.”
Rights Working Group urges DHS to:
•Immediately stop the implementation of Secure Communities and similar programs unless and until meaningful civil rights and civil liberties safeguards are put in place to ensure that racial profiling and other human rights violations are not occurring, including collecting data on the perceived race or ethnicity of the people arrested, the charges that are lodged and the ultimate disposition of the case.
•Terminate Secure Communities in jurisdictions that have chosen to opt out of the program.
•Immediately suspend Secure Communities in jurisdictions with a documented record of racial profiling or where DOJ is actively investigating a pattern or practice of discriminatory policing.
Press Release from Uncover The Truth:
Secure Communities Courtroom Battle Comes to a Head
Arguments to be Heard on ICE Attempt to Withhold
Key Documents from Public
What: Courtroom Arguments in NDLON v. ICE FOIA litigation
Where: Manhattan, Federal District Court.
When: August 11th.
Next Thursday, August 11th, advocates will argue for the release of key documents the agency continues to withhold related to the Secure Communities opt-out policies. Upon reviewing certain of the unredacted documents that are the subject of this challenge, Federal District Court Judge Shira Scheindlin concluded in a scathing opinion, “There is ample evidence that ICE and DHS have gone out of their way to mislead the public about Secure Communities,” and ordered the agency to release certain documents that could not be withheld simply because they might embarrass DHS and ICE.
In the year and a half since the beginning of the FOIA litigation, the documents that have been released so far shed light on a secretive and over-reaching deportation program. As the dangerous scope and impact of the program has been uncovered, a consensus has grown calling for the program’s termination. Governors in Illinois, New York, and Massachusetts have sought to opt-out of the program.
In an attempt to preempt the embarrassing documents that the court has ordered released and the conclusive results of the OIG investigation to be completed this winter, ICE and DHS have rolled out a series of cosmetic tweaks and a taskforce to “study” the program. These announcements have been widely condemned as insufficient given the civil rights crisis created by the program.
“If what we’ve seen so far tells us anything, it’s that ICE is an agency that cannot be trusted. The court has ordered ICE to release documents that FOIA gives the public a right to access. But the agency continues to stonewall and delay turning them over. The constantly shifting policies and lack of transparency about those policies, truly make it difficult to take what ICE says at face value. ” explained, Bridget Kessler, lawyer for Benjamin Cardozo School of Law.
Chris Newman of the National Day Laborer Organizing Network added,”DHS has far more interest in the politics of SCOMM than it does in developing a lawful policy that actually serves local communities. While DHS has moved at breakneck speed to advance a dubious program with media spin, it’s strategy in this litigation has been characterized by one word: delay. Thankfully, federal courts- and not DHS- will have the last word and will ultimately compel disclosure of information owed to the public and required by federal law.”