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DHS Reverses Course, Mandates State Participation In Costly, Ineffective “Secure Communities” Program

Last week, the United States Department of Homeland Security issued a decision stating their intention to mandate that states participate in the controversial, ineffective, and costly “Secure Communities” immigration enforcement program. This decision generated confusion and controversy given that the Secure Communities program had previously been described by DHS officials as a voluntary option for states. The announcement last Friday afternoon, which came as a surprise to many advocates, immediately invalidated the roughly 40 agreements that DHS had entered into with individual states or localities regarding their implementation of the program – agreements which the department once argued were required, but which are they now claim are unnecessary.

In a letter sent separately to 40 governors and other officials announcing their unilateral termination of these agreements, John Morton, the director of Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE), spelled out the Administration’s new claim that “ICE has determined that an MOA [memorandum of agreement] is not required to activate or operate Secure Communities for any jurisdiction,” adding that “once a state or local law enforcement agency voluntarily submits fingerprint data to the federal government, no agreement with the state is legally necessary for one part of the federal government to share it with another part.” DHS now claims that an existing federal immigration law that creates a shared database between law enforcement agencies and ICE renders the agreements unnecessary – yet, notably, the law nowhere spells out how this database should be used.

As Progressive States Network has reported, Secure Communities had been coming under increasing fire in the states as officials recognized its high cost, lack of effectiveness, and devastating results to communities. In just the last few months, the governors of Illinois, New York, and Massachusetts all withdrew their states’ participation in the program, with others (including Colorado) considering doing the same. This movement towards opposition came amid widespread concern about the impact of the program — whose purported aim is to identify and deport dangerous criminals but which often ends up flagging and deporting undocumented immigrants who have committed no crime at all, with devastating effects for families (which often include U.S. citizen children) and community policing efforts. The sudden unilateral push for the program’s implementation in the states comes as the Obama has deported record numbers of people — approximately 1 million over the past two years.  

Reaction to the Friday afternoon announcement from DHS by pro-immigrant state advocates and legislators was swift and unsparing. The Coalition for Humane Immigrant Rights of Los Angeles in California released a statement claiming that, “from the beginning, S-Comm has been shrouded in lies and deception — and it is increasingly clear that its stated aim of targeting serious criminals was just a smokescreen for achieving record numbers of deportations for an ‘enforcement-only’ approach.” The Illinois Coalition for Immigrant and Refugee Rights issued a press release stating, “once again DHS is trying to rule by fiat... this is not Libya, where security agencies make up the rules as they go along.”  Congressman Jose Serrano (D-NY) sent a letter to ICE Director Morton urging the agency to “think about the impact you are having on local communities.. particularly when local police are deemed frontline enforcers of broken immigration laws,” and warned that “we cannot jeopardize local law enforcement in the pursuit of ever larger numbers of deportations.”

As ICE convenes public hearings across the country in Los Angeles, Chicago, and Boston (Dallas already hosted a public hearing earlier this week) featuring members of the agency’s Advisory Task Force to investigate growing allegations of racial profiling and widespread detentions and deportations, immigration advocacy groups such as the National Day Laborer Organizing Network (NDLON) and other organizations are planning widespread protests in Tucson, Arizona; Chicago; Boston; and Oakland, California, among others, as part of a week of resistance to Secure Communities, planned for next week.  

State Legislators for Progressive Immigration Policy, a group of state lawmakers representing 36 states advancing practical, common-sense immigration measures, called the DHS announcement “devastating” and “disingenuous,” and underscored how the decision “imposes yet another unfunded immigration enforcement mandate on states as they confront ballooning budget deficits and stagnant job growth.” In addition, civil rights groups are considering whether to proceed with legal action that would block the implementation of the decision. The strong reaction should not have come as a surprise — as the New York Times noted, more than 200 immigrant advocacy groups had recently signed a letter demanding that the administration suspend Secure Communities entirely “until changes are made to ensure that illegal immigrants who are not criminals are not deported.”

A report out of Oregon this week highlighted the stakes of DHS’s misguided decision for countless families and communities across the nation who stand to be torn apart as a result. An investigation by The Oregonian concluded that of the 624 people deported under Secure Communities in that state in a little over a year, 155 were convicted of the lowest level of non-violent crime, and a full 175 —or 28 percent —were not convicted of any criminal violation whatsoever. Romeo Sosa, executive director of Voz Workers' Rights Education Project, stated that participation in Secure Communities has visibly increased tensions in immigrant communities in Oregon and resulted in "a silent deportation,” adding “I think everyone agrees we want to promote public safety, but this is not the answer.”

Full Resources from this Article

DHS Reverses Course, Mandates State Participation In Costly, Ineffective “Secure Communities” Program

Progressive States Network - Opting for Real Security, More States Withdrawing from Secure Communities
Progressive States Network - PSN 2011 Immigration Roundup
State Legislators for Progressive Immigration Policy - S-COMM a Scam: New DHS Mandate that States Participate in “Secure Communities” Enforcement Program Called Devastating, Disingenuous
Immigration Impact - DHS Terminates Secure Communities Agreements with States, Continues to Implement Program
USA Today - Federal immigration-check requirement draws ire
The Oregonian - Program to deport criminals sweeps up noncriminals in Oregon as well, foes say

This article is part of PSN's email newsletter, The Stateside Dispatch.
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