National Immigration Forum

Practical Solutions for Immigrants and America

Blog & Updates

Insecurities about Secure Communities

October 14, 2010 - Posted by Maurice Belanger

When a person is arrested and brought to a police station, their fingerprints are obtained and those prints are run through various government databases.  For communities participating in ICE’s Secure Communities program, those prints are also run through Department of Homeland Security databases to determine immigration status.


In recent weeks, DHS has been giving conflicting information about how a jurisdiction, once enrolled, may opt out of the program—or indeed if jurisdictions even have the choice to enroll or not.  The confusion has become the subject of media attention as some localities, concerned about the effect of Secure Communities on their community policing strategies, have inquired about leaving the program.  Top officials at DHS, including Secretary Napolitano, have given contradictory information.


Representative Zoe Lofgren raised the issue in a recent letter where she asked DHS Secretary Napolitano and Attorney General Holder to clear up confusion created by contradictory information regarding the steps to be taken by a community wishing to withdraw from the program. 


In their response, Assistant Attorney General Ronald Weich and Secretary Napolitano told Rep. Lofgren that it indeed it is possible for communities to withdraw from the program and that to do so they must notify the Assistant Director for the Secure Communities program at ICE, as well as their State Identification Bureau.


Subsequently, in a press conference announcing more “Record-breaking Immigration Enforcement Statistics Achieved under the Obama Administration,” Secretary Napolitano answered a question about the Secure Communities program by saying that, because the program was an information sharing program between the Department of Justice and DHS, it was not possible for communities to withdraw.


On the other hand, according to DHS press releases, implementation of the program has been phased in, and it now includes 660 jurisdictions.  Many others are not yet included.  If it is possible for communities to not yet be included, it is unclear how opting out would be impossible.


For more information on the Secure Communities program and the efforts of communities to disassociate themselves from it, see the Web site “Uncover the Truth,” operated by the National Day Laborer Organizing Network, the Center for Constitutional Rights, and the Cardozo School of Law.

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