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DHS Forces Flawed Secure Communities on States That Don't Want it

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The Obama administration’s Secure Communities program is making headlines again — and that’s never good. Secure Communities has played a key role in the Obama administration’s record-breaking number of deportations.

Last year, PBS produced a documentary, Lost in Detention, that examined the controversial program. It’s must see for anyone concerned with immigrant rights. The website for  last year’s PBS  provides a succinct definition of the controversial program:

Secure Communities is a high-tech information-sharing program between Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) and local law enforcement. But critics, including three Democratic state governors, say the program is detaining and deporting low-level offenders or people without criminal records, contrary to the administration’s stated goal [PDF] of deporting only “aliens who are convicted of a serious criminal offense.

The facts show that it is much more the former than the latter: fully 57% of all immigrants deported through Secure Communities as of October 31, 2011 had either been convicted of low-level offenses, such as traffic violations, or had no criminal record at all.

Now, the program is being launched in Massachusetts and New Yorks, despite protests from Governors Deval Patrick and Andrew Cuomo.

From The Boston Globe:

Massachusetts Gov. Deval Patrick is warning law enforcement officials not to use a federal program aimed at identifying illegal immigrants arrested for crimes as a “license to profile.’’

Patrick told reporters Thursday that he doesn’t want the Secure Communities program used to “gin up unnecessary fear’’ in minority communities whose continued cooperation with police is important for public safety.

Patrick’s comments came in response to the decision by the U.S. Department of Homeland Security to launch the program next week.

And, the New York Daily News:

Over objections from Gov. Cuomo and city officials, the feds will begin using fingerprints from NYPD arrests next week to round up illegal immigrants, the Daily News has learned.

Immigration and Customs Enforcement officials told the NYPD and other local police departments in New York that the controversial Secure Communities program will be activated Tuesday across the state.

DHS is implementing the program in New Hampshire, but no one there seems to know:

The Department of Homeland Security is moving ahead with plans to institute the controversial Secure Communities program in the state of New Hampshire. But the news has come as a surprise to many — including the state’s Attorney General, Michael Delaney.

“I can’t confirm anything about the program in New Hampshire right now,” Delaney told The Eagle Tribune on Wednesday. “[Immigration and Customs Enforcement] did not give me or anyone at my office any notification about the program.” Various local sheriffs and police chiefs had also not gotten word of the program’s implementation in their state, according to The Eagle Tribute.

We’ve been very critical of Secure Communities. Last month, the Department of Homeland Security had the opportunity to acknowledge the flawed outcomes of its Secure Communities program and institute meaningful reform. But, no. DHS only announced a series of minor reforms.

In fact, it’s difficult to distinguish the difference between Arizona’s draconian SB 1070 and the Obama administration’s tactics under Secure Communities. That’s how bad it is. For example,  a hardworking father can be picked up by local police for driving with a broken tail light and end up deported. That’s what Secure Communities does to our enforcement priorities. It is  deeply flawed.

The government’s own data proves that Secure Communities is not focused on dangerous criminals, but casts a wide net and ensnares thousands of immigrants who have committed no crime.  When a traffic stop leads to deportation, immigrants get the message loud and clear: avoid the police at all costs.  This makes them far less likely to report crimes they experience or witness, gives criminals a free pass, and hurts us all.

Secure Communities, like the Arizona’s notorious anti-immigrant law, puts the decision of who should be deported not in the hands of ICE officials or policymakers, but in those of local cops who arrest immigrants and turn them over to DHS. It’s the wrong approach in Arizona. It’s the wrong approach for the Obama administration.