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. 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.”
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.”
Frank Sharry, Executive Director of America’s Voice Education Fund, agreed. “The presumption of innocence is a bedrock principle of our nation’s criminal justice system. The suggestion, made by one of our nation’s top law enforcement officials, that this principle should not apply to certain classes of people is simply stunning. Instead of dismissing concerns out of hand and treating immigrants like they are guilty until proven innocent, Secretary Napolitano should listen to the concerns voiced by members of the immigrant community and local law enforcement. Secure Communities is not narrowly focused on dangerous, convicted criminals. It is sweeping up people who have committed no crime, telling immigrant residents that contact with the police leads to deportation, and 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.”
Sharry continued: “If Secure Communities targeted convicted criminals, it wouldn’t be so controversial and police agencies wouldn’t be asking to opt out. But if the word from the top is that immigrants are considered guilty until proven innocent, then ordinary immigrant workers, parents and children will continue to get swept up by a program whose very name is becoming a cruel joke. It’s time for the DHS leadership to overhaul or end Secure Communities, not coddle they cowboy culture that permeates it.”
America’s Voice Education Fund — Harnessing the power of American voices and American values to win common sense immigration reform.