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Secure Communities: Just Another – Bigger - Deportation Dragnet

April 29, 2011 - Posted by Mario Moreno



Since the inception of ICE’s Secure Communities program, advocates have been raising concerns that the program incentivizes racial profiling and fails to target the “serious criminal offenders” that it was supposedly designed to target.
While DHS has largely ignored these cries, the data is starting to roll in.
According to ICE’s own statistics, more than a quarter (29%) of people removed as a result of the Secure Communities program nationwide have had no criminal convictions.  Moreover, the program’s success in targeting higher level offenders has actually decreased over time, in spite of pronouncements from ICE that they prioritize more serious offenses.  In FY2009, ICE removed 3,744 people under the Secure Communities program with no criminal history.  This was 25.9% of the 14,476 total people removed in that period.  In FY2010, the ratio increased: 27.7% of removals were of individuals without convictions.  From the beginning of FY2011 to date, more than 31% of Secure Communities deportations have been individuals with no criminal history.  In fact, as the program has grown, the rate of removals of people without criminal convictions relative to other deportations has steadily increased.
Taking a closer look, while a few counties may do more targeted enforcement, others use the program as an enormous dragnet for non-citizens.  The proportion of deportees with no criminal convictions is much higher in some areas.
In California, sixty-four percent of deportees identified via Secure Communities in Merced County had no criminal convictions.  In Solano, half of deportees had no criminal record.  In Contra Costa, forty-four percent lacked a criminal history.  In Sonoma, forty-two percent.  And in San Francisco (a so-called “sanctuary city”), forty-six percent of deportees had no criminal history.
In Franklin County, Ohio, more than half the people deported via Secure Communities had no criminal convictions.  In Boston, Massachusetts, non-criminal deportations were also at fifty percent.
Deportations from Secure Communities in Prince George’s county, Maryland were sixty-five percent non-criminals. In Jefferson Parish, Louisiana, it was seventy-two percent.  It gets even worse: an assessment of the first 49 days of implementation of Secure Communities in New York found that in six out of 11 counties, 100 percent of immigrants identified through Secure Communities had no criminal records.
Moreover, a significant proportion of removals that are counted as “criminal aliens” result from low-level offenses such as trespassing or driving without a license.  A combined 60.3% of removals under Secure Communities across the entire program have been of either individuals without a conviction to their name or individuals with only a misdemeanor conviction.
Now that ICE has decided that no local jurisdictions will be allowed to opt out of the Secure Communities program, how will local jurisdictions be held accountable if they use Secure Communities to funnel large numbers of non-criminals and traffic offenders to ICE?  How will ICE be held accountable when it strays from its deportation priorities and wastes government resources deporting immigrants with no criminal record or minor offenses?
Accountability here is twofold: local law enforcement shouldn’t be hauling in so many traffic offenders to jail when a citation would suffice.  ICE shouldn’t be focusing so much of their removal efforts on low priority immigrants that are identified by the Secure Communities program.  It’s a waste of tax dollars.

There are signs Congress is becoming impatient with ICE.

In a letter sent to DHS Secretary Janet Napolitano on April 14th, Senator Charles Schumer (D-NY) expressed concern about the “suboptimal use of scarce government resources in our detention and removal system.”


“Every dollar spent on detention, prosecution and removal of a non-criminal immigrant is a dollar that cannot be spent getting criminal aliens off of our streets and out of our country.”


On the House side, Representative Zoe Lofgren (D-CA) is angry at ICE for telling her that local governments could “opt out” of Secure Communities, then telling local jurisdictions they had no choice but to participate.


"It is inescapable that the [Department of Homeland Security] was not honest with the local governments or with me….  You can’t have a government department essentially lying to local government and to members of Congress. This is not OK."


With little sign that Congress will do its job and make common sense changes to the immigration system to facilitate the ability of otherwise law-abiding immigrants to stay and continue to contribute to their communities, the Department of Homeland Security must do a better job delivering on their commitment to prioritize their enforcement efforts.  Otherwise, statistics like those cited above will feed a growing revolt against Secure Communities.

Image: iStockPhoto/labsaslabsas

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