Fundamental Reforms Needed to Align Program with Law Enforcement Priorities, Protect Public Safety
Today, Immigration and Customs Enforcement announced that it is establishing an advisory board to review the Secure Communities deportation program, and implementing new guidance throughout the field on prosecutorial discretion.
ICE Director John Morton has repeatedly said that he believes federal immigration enforcement should focus on the ‘worst of the worst,’ yet the policies and practices of his agency have repeatedly failed to meet that standard. The program known as Secure Communities, which involves state and local police in identifying immigrants for deportation, provides one of the starkest examples. Secure Communities was supposed to focus on dangerous convicted criminals, but has actually swept up thousands of non-criminal immigrants and hurt the relationship between local police and the immigrant community.
According to Lynn Tramonte, Deputy Director of America’s Voice Education Fund: “Today’s announcement shows that concerns about the program’s failures have finally penetrated the DHS bureaucracy in Washington. When law enforcement leaders and advocates for crime victims are speaking out against a ‘law enforcement’ proposal, something is wrong.”
For years, law enforcement leaders have warned of the dangers of turning police into deportation agents, because they want everyone in the community to feel safe reporting crimes. Yet according to government data obtained by the National Day Laborer Organizing Network, the Center for Constitutional Rights, and the Benjamin N. Cardozo School of Law, approximately 60% of the people deported under Secure Communities had either been charged with low-level offenses, such as traffic violations, or no crime at all. Victims of domestic violence have already been caught up in the Secure Communities dragnet; an unknown number of immigrants have declined to come forward and report crimes for fear of deportation. When they stay silent, law enforcement and public safety suffer.
As New York Governor Cuomo wrote when announcing his intention of removing New York from the program: “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.” Illinois Governor Quinn and Massachusetts Governor Patrick voiced the same concerns and are attempting to cancel their states’ participation in the program. Numerous law enforcement leaders from New York and elsewhere are speaking up, as are Members of Congress.
Tramonte continued: “Cosmetic changes will not be not enough. This program needs sweeping structural reform if it is to meet its stated goal of truly targeting the ‘worst of the worst,’ and reverse the damage done to community policing. It should only apply to people who are convicted of serious crimes, not those who have been simply charged with low-level offenses, traffic offenses, or no crime at all. Police need to focus on getting dangerous criminals off the streets, not rounding up immigrant workers.”
For a timeline on developments in the debate over Secure Communities, go here.
For quotes from law enforcement leaders raising concerns about Secure Communities, go here.
America’s Voice Education Fund — Harnessing the power of American voices and American values to win common sense immigration reform.