NY Joins Growing List of States and Experts Questioning Public Safety Problems with Secure Communities Deportation Program
Yesterday, New York Governor Andrew Cuomo (D) suspended his state’s participation in the ineffective Secure Communities deportation program, due to concerns over its impact on community policing and public safety. In his letter to the U.S. Department of Homeland Security, Gov. Cuomo said that “The heart of concern is that the program, conceived of as a method of targeting those who pose the greatest threat to our communities, is in fact having the opposite effect and compromising public safety by deterring witnesses to crime and others from working with law enforcement.” Governor Cuomo’s announcement was accompanied by a number of supportive reactions from New York law enforcement officials and other leaders.
According to Frank Sharry, Executive Director of America’s Voice Education Fund, “The facts are clear on this one – Secure Communities makes communities less secure and does not live up to its stated mission. We applaud Gov. Cuomo and other leaders who have taken a stand against this counterproductive program. Until major changes are made that address the persistent and widespread problems with Secure Communities, more and more states, localities, and law enforcement leaders are likely to continue the trend of speaking out and opting out of this divisive and ineffective program.”
With Gov. Cuomo’s decision, the state of New York joins a growing number of critics calling on the federal government to reform or rescind Secure Communities. As the following timeline makes clear, concern over Secure Communities has grown louder and more pronounced in recent months:
- September-October 2010 – Communities Raise Red Flags: Jurisdictions such as Arlington County, VA and San Francisco, CA raise concerns over Secure Communities and seek to opt-out of the program. The New York Times editorializes in favor of reforming the program, writing, “Washington needs to find a way to allow cities like San Francisco and Washington to enforce the law without turning into a branch of ICE.”
- October 2010 – Internal Government Data Reveals Program’s Stunning Failures: The Benjamin N. Cardozo School of Law, the Center for Constitutional Rights, and the National Day Laborer Organizing Network release a damning study of the Secure Communities program based on data obtained via the Freedom of Information Act. The groups reveal that more than a quarter of deportees identified via Secure Communities program were, in fact, non-criminals, and nearly 80% either had no criminal records or were “picked up for low-level offenses, like traffic violations and juvenile mischief.” The groups’ study also highlights internal DHS emails showing coercive tactics used to compel localities to participate in the program, despite their concerns.
- April 2011 – Federal Policymakers Call for Investigation: Sen. Robert Menendez (D-NJ) and Ranking Member of the House Immigration Subcommittee, Rep. Zoe Lofgren (D-CA), call for an investigation of Secure Communities. Sen. Menendez writes, “While I strongly agree that serious criminals should be removed from the United States, this program has gone awry and strayed from its mission. It needs fundamental reform and state and local police officers, who are on the front line of crime fighting and protecting our community, should be able to decide whether the program helps or hurts their number one priority of fighting crime.”
- May 2011 – CHC Calls for Reform: The Congressional Hispanic Caucus (CHC) calls for a moratorium on Secure Communities pending an evaluation of the program’s goals, implementation, and consequences. In a letter the President, CHC members explain, “evidence reveals not only a striking dissonance between the program’s stated purpose of removing dangerous criminals and its actual effect; it also suggests that S-Comm may endanger the public, particularly among communities of color.”
- May 2011 – Illinois Terminates its Involvement: Illinois Gov. Patrick Quinn (D-IL) terminates his state’s participation in Secure Communities, noting that “the implementation of the Secure Communities program in Illinois is contrary to the stated purpose…more than 30% of those deported from the United States, under the program, have never been convicted of any crime, much less a serious one.”
- May 2011 – DHS OIG Announces Investigation: The Office of Inspector General (OIG) of the Department of Homeland Security announces that it will investigate the Secure Communities program. Acting DHS Inspector General Charles Edwards tells Rep. Zoe Lofgren (D-CA) that his office will examine the program’s cost, whether it is accomplishing its stated goal of identifying and removing “dangerous criminal aliens,” and whether the federal government was transparent with localities about whether the program is voluntary or not.
- May 2011 – Law Enforcement Continues to Speak Out Against Program: Police and law enforcement experts continue to speak out against Secure Communities. San Francisco Sherriff Michael Hennessey highlights the central assertion from law enforcement about the problems with Secure Communities– it destroys public trust with devastating effects: “As the sheriff of San Francisco for more than 30 years, I know that maintaining public safety requires earning community trust. We rely heavily on the trust and cooperation of all community members – including immigrants – to come forward and report crimes, either as victims or as witnesses. Otherwise, crimes go unreported – and this affects everyone, citizens and noncitizens alike.”
- May 2011 – California Assembly Passes TRUST Act: California’s Assembly passes the Transparency and Responsibility Using State Tools Act (TRUST Act) by a 44-22 margin, sending the legislation to the state Senate. The bill would allow counties statewide to opt out of the Secure Communities Program program if they desire. The Los Angeles Times editorializes in favor of the bill, writing, “If federal immigration officials are unwilling to target the people they said they would target,” then the TRUST Act “will set modest and sensible limits. It would help focus enforcement efforts on felons who commit rape, murder or other violent crimes instead of street vendors and domestic violence victims.”
- June 2011 – New York Suspends Involvement in Program: New York Gov. Cuomo suspends his state’s participation in the ineffective Secure Communities deportation program.
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