National Immigration Forum

Practical Solutions for Immigrants and America

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ICE Offers Inadequate Response to Secure Communities Task Force

May 04, 2012 - Posted by Brittney Nystrom

When the Secure Communities program was launched by the Obama Administration in 2008, it was paraded as a way to identify and deport violent immigrants with criminal convictions. Fast-forward almost four years, and the program is the subject of sharp criticism by immigrant, civil rights and law enforcement groups alike because the program has strayed from that mission. Instead, it has mutated into a dragnet for immigrants – regardless of whether they actually pose a risk to public safety. According to the government’s own data, in Fiscal Year 2011, 29% of individuals deported through Secure Communities were individuals convicted of minor crimes resulting in sentences of less than one year and 26% percent had no criminal convictions. Thus, 55% of individuals deported through Secure Communities has either no criminal convictions or minor ones.

In an attempt to appease critics of the Secure Communities program, on April 27 the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) issued a “policy paper” in response to recommendations made by the Secure Communities Task Force last year. (The Forum participated in the Task Force, resigning when it became evident that deep problems with the program would not be resolved through the task force’s efforts.)

The “changes” ICE announced make clear that ICE is not willing to implement any real reforms to this flawed program. ICE included in its response every change that it has already made over the past year, no matter how tenuous its relation to the Secure Communities program. These include: issuance of prosecutorial discretion memos last June and November by Immigrations and Customs Enforcement (ICE), creation of a new immigration detainer form and hotline for those subject to immigration detainers, outreach meetings with stakeholders, termination of Memoranda of Agreement with states (characterized as clarified communication by ICE), the posting of more information about Secure Communities on the ICE website, the creation of a Public Advocate position within ICE, training of management and ICE attorneys on prosecutorial discretion, review of backlogged cases for consideration of prosecutorial discretion, video briefings made by the DHS Office for Civil Rights and Civil Liberties for law enforcement agencies, and hiring of one statistician to review Secure Communities data for indications that a jurisdiction was misusing the program.

One chronic complaint of the Secure Communities program is that it has deviated from its original purpose of identifying and removing dangerous individuals convicted of serious crimes. Regrettably, ICE will continue to pursue low-level offenders through the Secure Communities program, including immigrants convicted of minor traffic offenses, such as driving with a broken taillight or making an illegal U-turn. One revision found in last week’s response to the task force states that for individuals arrested solely for minor traffic offenses, who have not previously been convicted of other crimes and do not fall within any of ICE's enforcement priorities, ICE will only consider commencing enforcement action upon conviction for the minor traffic offense.

While it’s noteworthy that ICE has finally acknowledged that Secure Communities requires reforms, and we are glad they are making some alterations that may dampen discriminatory behavior, disturbing problems with the program remain unresolved. Individuals charged with civil immigration violations are still targeted by a program with the stated goal of identifying individuals who are a threat to public safety; insufficient safeguards allow arrests based on discriminatory policing to drive the program; and communities are not given a choice regarding their participation.

In its current form, the Secure Communities program endangers the public by throwing too big a net that catches the wrong, people while stifling community trust and cooperation with law enforcement because it makes immigrants more reluctant to report crimes as either witnesses or victims. ICE’s proposed minor tweaks to the program are not enough. The Secure Communities program must be halted until key remedies are implemented that fundamentally fix this flawed program.

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