Guest Blogger: Joan Friedland from the National Immigration Law Center
It was refreshing to hear the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) acknowledge something activists have been saying for years: the immigrant detention system operates like the punitive criminal incarceration system, even though the vast majority of detainees have committed no crime. Missing from their announcement, however, was a plan to keep its newly-expanded enforcement programs from increasing the number of immigrants detained in this broken system.
“Secure Communities” is DHS’s latest attempt to use local law enforcement to push people into the immigrant detention system. All local law enforcement has to do is arrest someone on a traffic or other offense – even if the arrest is based on racial profiling – and their fingerprints will be checked against immigration databases during booking. When the fingerprint scan gets a “hit,” immigrants can end up getting carted off by Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) agents to an immigration detention center. If they get out on bond, ICE can take them into custody, leaving their criminal cases unresolved. It doesn’t matter if the person was innocent of a criminal charge or if the arrest was a pretext to check immigration status.
Sound scary? Consider this: ICE plans to have the program in every jail and prison in the country by 2013.
ICE isn’t lifting a finger to keep local police from using arrests on minor charges as an excuse to get immigrants into custody. The available evidence shows that only a small percentage of immigrants caught through Secure Communities were convicted of serious crimes. But calling all of them “criminal aliens” masks what’s really going on and lets ICE and Congress – which is allocating a whopping $200 million for Secure Communities – look tough on enforcement.
Accountability and transparency are not hallmarks of Secure Communities. Since the program’s inception in 2008, ICE has reduced the public information about it on the agency website, adding graphics but eliminating details about enforcement priorities. ICE has given conflicting information about whether a community can opt out of the program or just use it to target people convicted of violent crimes. And ICE doesn’t appear to be collecting the kind of data that would prevent the program from being misused.
The government’s admission that the immigrant detention system is flawed is a step in the right direction. They now need to keep this monstrous system from growing. Secure Communities will only ensure that the opposite will happen.
Image courtesy of www.ice.gov