Last Friday at an event sponsored by NDN, Department of Homeland Security (DHS) Secretary Janet Napolitano made an outrageous comment in defense of the controversial Secure Communities program (you can watch her address here). When challenged to explain why a program targeting serious criminal offenders is sweeping up so many non-criminal immigrants, Napolitano responded:
It looks like there was no crime committed, but when you go in and look at the arrest plot, why were they getting fingerprinted to begin with? There was a crime there.
Whatever happened to innocent until proven guilty?
According to the government’s own data, at least 28% of the people identified for deportation by Secure Communities were not convicted of any crime.
As Chris Newman, legal director of the National Day Laborer Network, told the Huffington Post:
It sort of inverts the presumption of innocence when it comes to immigrants. There’s no reason why people at the point of being booked should be screened for immigration status. If they were really serious about deporting only serious criminals, they would screen only after people had been convicted of a crime.
Unfortunately, Secure Communities is not a program that is narrowly focused on dangerous, convicted criminals. The program uses significant amounts of our tax dollars to sweep up civilians who pose no threat to the community. At the same time, it also creates insecure communities by letting immigrant residents think that contacting the police will lead to deportation, thus silencing crime victims in the process.
As the New York Times recently editorialized:
Secure Communities won’t make the country more secure, not the way it is working. Police departments that don’t want to participate should be able to opt out. The Obama administration needs to fix it or jettison it.
If Secure Communities targeted convicted criminals, it wouldn’t be as controversial as it is and police agencies wouldn’t be asking to opt out. Frank Sharry, executive director of America’s Voice, said:
It’s time for the DHS leadership to overhaul or end Secure Communities, not coddle the cowboy culture that permeates it.