National Immigration Forum

Practical Solutions for Immigrants and America

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Immigration Policy Update: Secure Communities in Congress and Around the Country

July 13, 2012 - Posted by Maurice Belanger

Oversight Hearing on Immigration and Customs Enforcement

While this week the House was busy repealing the health care law for the 33rd time, Members did take time out to conduct some business. On July 10th, in the Homeland Security Committee Subcommittee on Border and Maritime Security, there was a hearing, “Building a Secure Community: How Can DHS Better Leverage State and Local Partnerships?” Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) Director John Morton was the only witness. A few highlights:

  • As part of a response to criticism of the Secure Communities program, ICE, working with the DHS Office of Civil Rights and Civil Liberties, has been keeping statistics on persons who are run through the Secure Communities program. Director Morton said those statistics are being analyzed, and some anomalies have been found that will require further investigation. Should a county be suspected of racial profiling, ICE will work with the Justice Department’s Civil Rights Division to pursue a remedy.

  • Director Morton stated that 287(g) “Task Force” agreements, which delegate immigration authority to law enforcement agencies outside of jail settings, will not be renewed, if they haven’t already been terminated as in the case of Arizona. The agency has found them to be unproductive, and ultimately did not result in many removals. 287(g) “jail model” agreements will remain in place.

  • Rep. Ben Quayle (R-Ariz.) asked what the Administration is going to do about Cook County (Chicago), which has decided not to honor ICE detainers. Director Morton said that he has been discussing legal options with the Department of Justice. Options include restricting funds to Cook County for incarceration of certain immigrants under the State Criminal Alien Assistance Program (SCAAP).

The Continuing Revolt against Secure Communities

Cook County’s non-cooperation with ICE detainers is a new cause for immigration hardliners in Congress. Meanwhile, other localities are passing legislation to limit the impact of Secure Communities. This week, the District of Columbia passed legislation that will limit ICE’s use of District facilities and equipment, and limit the District’s response to ICE detainer requests to individuals who are more than 18 years of age and who have been convicted of a dangerous crime and only if ICE agrees to reimburse the District for the cost of detaining that individual. (For more information, see this article from the Rights Working Group.)

In California, the legislature has passed a measure that would do something similar on a state-wide level. The TRUST Act will limit the ability of state and local governments to hold immigrants based on ICE immigration detainers. Law enforcement officials will be able to hold an individual beyond the time they would ordinarily be released from custody only if the individual has been convicted of a serious or violent felony, and only if the continued detention would not violate any state, federal, or local laws. (The bill goes back to the California assembly again, for a concurrence vote, before it is sent to the governor. More specifics about the TRUST Act can be read in this summary posted on the Southern California Public Radio Web site.)

Meanwhile, back in Chicago, Mayor Rahm Emanuel this week announced his intention to introduce the “Welcoming City Ordinance,” which among other things will clarify that “undocumented Chicagoans will only be detained if they are wanted on a criminal warrant by local or federal authorities, if they have been convicted of a serious crime and remain in the United States illegally, or if they are otherwise a clear threat to public safety or national security.” The action by the Mayor came after pressure from advocates in the wake of an incident in which Chicago police arrested and detained a Cameroonian asylum seeker, eventually delivering her to ICE. (For more information on the Welcoming City Ordinance, see this press release from the Mayor’s office.)

In Congress, the issue of Secure Communities will likely come up again next week when the House Judiciary Committee, Chaired by Rep. Lamar Smith (R-Texas), will hold an oversight hearing on the Department of Homeland Security.

Web Resources

  • This week, the Forum posted a set of arguments explaining how the Administration’s decision to stop deporting certain young undocumented immigrants is good for the U.S. economy. Go to our publications page to download the document.

  • In the wake of the Supreme Court’s decision on the Arizona’s anti-immigrant law, the Forum has produced a very short roundup of the status of similar laws in other states. That can be found on our resource page on the Arizona law.

  • While we wait for U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services to publish an application process for deferred action (for certain immigrant youth), there has been a lot of effort put in to educating communities around the country about the dangers of immigration fraud, as unscrupulous individuals take advantage of a new immigration program to get people to pay unnecessarily. We have links to anti-fraud materials produced by a variety of organizations on this page of our Web site.

Follow-Up: Arizona’s SB 1070

While the Supreme Court rejected the argument that the controversial “Show Me Your Papers” provision of Arizona’s SB 1070 is pre-empted by federal law, an injunction against that provision is still in effect. The 9th Circuit Court of Appeals will make a ruling on the injunction as early as July 20. It could lift the injunction, based on the Supreme Court’s ruling, or extend it based on other issues that have yet to be argued. For more information on those and other legal issues, see our resource page on the Arizona law.

Follow-up: Grand Jury to Hear Case in Border Patrol Beating

In a previous policy update, there was a story about excessive use of force by the Border Patrol, which was the subject of a Public Broadcasting Service (PBS) investigation on their program "Need to Know." This week, a federal grand jury was called to consider evidence in a beating death at the hands of the Border Patrol that was filmed by witnesses and aired by PBS. The grand jury was convened just days after another person died after being shot by a Border Patrol agent. For more information, see this press release by the Southern Border Communities Coalition. Need To Know is also scheduled to air another segment on Border Patrol on July 20.

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