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Lack of Difference Between Secure Communities and Arizona’s SB 1070

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Last week, the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) released its long-awaited response to last year’s report from the Secure Communities Task Force. Secure Communities, the Obama Administration’s signature immigration enforcement program, has been fiercely criticized by law enforcement experts, state governors and legislatures, community leaders and members of Congress as a deportation dragnet that has systematically failed to distinguish between hardworking immigrants and serious criminals. Despite the program’s intention of identifying serious, violent criminals for deportation, 26% of those deported under it have committed no crime, and 56%–more than half—have committed either no crime or a minor crime like a traffic offense.

DHS’ response was to ignore most of the already modest recommendations of the Secure Communities Task Force, and to make only one significant policy change. Under the policy DHS announced last week, an individual who gets picked up for a minor traffic violation, such as driving without a license, can still be detained and deported by ICE—but now, ICE will wait to do it until after she is convicted of the minor traffic violation. (Individuals arrested for other minor crimes can still be detained and deported without ever being convicted of anything).

As Frank Sharry, our executive director notes:

Instead of taking this opportunity to acknowledge the flawed outcomes of its Secure Communities program and institute meaningful reform, DHS has announced reforms so minor they make it difficult to distinguish the difference between Arizona’s draconian tactics and its own. For example, when a hardworking father can be picked up by local police for driving with a broken tail light and end up deported, our enforcement priorities are deeply flawed. This scenario will become all too common if Arizona’s SB 1070 is upheld by the Supreme Court. But, unfortunately, this type of enforcement already exists through Secure Communities, a program with will soon be operational nationwide. And, today, DHS refused to narrow the criteria that would keep thousands of immigrants from being deported in similar scenarios.

Secure Communities, like the Arizona 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.  Earlier this week, lawyer for Arizona, Paul Clement, defended that state’s immigration law before the Supreme Court by comparing it to Secure Communities, and he was right. Today’s announcement makes it clear that the Department of Homeland Security isn’t concerned about drawing much of a distinction.