In a press conference held on Wednesday to announce Immigrations and Customs Enforcement’s (ICE) results for 2010, Department of Homeland Security (DHS) Secretary Janet Napolitano declared that in 2010, 392,862 undocumented immigrants were deported from the United States, more than in any previous year. In an effort to highlight the Obama administration’s focus on deporting those who were guilty of crimes, Napolitano announced that about half of those deported (195,772) were convicted criminals. In addition to the surge in numbers reflecting ICE’s commitment to “removing those who pose public safety threats to our communities,” Napolitano attributed the figures to the expansion of the ‘Secure Communities’ program, a partnership between ICE and the Department of Justice that allows ICE access to information about every individual as soon as he/she is arrested by local or county law enforcement.
Napolitano announced on Wednesday that since it was initiated by DHS in 2008, the ‘Secure Communities’ program has expanded from 14 jurisdictions to 660 counties and cities around the country. The goal of the Obama administration is for the entire country to be participating in the program by 2013. It has become increasingly clear that this, and other immigration enforcement programs that involve ICE partnerships with local law enforcement, work to drive huge numbers of people into detention and deportation, incarcerating even those who have not been proven guilty of crimes, and completely break down the crucial separation between immigration enforcement (a federal issue) and law enforcement (that takes place on a local and state level).
For all these reasons, the program has come under attack from immigrant rights advocates who see it as a dangerous means bv which the DHS can drive huge numbers into the net of deportation so that they look tough on immigration, while breaking down the trust between communities and their local police. In addition to this is the danger that such partnerships give way to racial profiling of individuals who “appear to look undocumented,” by local law enforcement.
Due to these issues, as well as a glaring lack of information, transparency and accountability on the part of ICE, a number of counties have chosen to opt out of the Secure Communities program. Recently though, there has been a lot of controversy around whether or not it is indeed possible for local jurisdictions to opt out, as was originally indicated in a letter sent to Congress by Secretary Napolitano on September 7. While counties like San Francisco and Santa Clara, California opted out of the program, it is only when Arlington, VA and Washington DC recently attempted to withdraw from the program, that it became apparent that it is not, in reality, voluntary. As explained by a Washington Post article, the way the program works makes it impossible for counties to withdraw their participation-
Secure Communities…relies on the fingerprints collected by local authorities when a person is charged with anything from a traffic violation to murder. The fingerprints are sent to state police, and then to the FBI, for criminal background checks. Under the two-year-old program, ICE is able to access the information sent to the FBI…The only way a local jurisdiction could opt out of the program is if a state refused to send fingerprints to the FBI. Since police and prosecutors need to know the criminal histories of people they arrest, it is not realistic for states to withhold fingerprints from the FBI – which means it is impossible to withhold them from ICE.
D.C. Council member Jim Graham, who voted to opt out of the program expressed his frustration at ICE-
…It is extremely disappointing because it means the District of Columbia now has a blurred rather than a bright line between what the Metropolitan Police Department is doing and what immigration officers are doing. e had a bright line, and that has increased trust and confidence in our police among immigrant communities. That will now vanish.
A coalition of immigrant rights groups including the Center for Constitutional Rights and the National Day Laborer Organization Network have criticized ICE for its conflicting information and misleading numbers. They hold that based on statistics obtained from ICE, nearly 80% of people who were detained as a result of Secure Communities were either convicted of very minor offenses such as traffic violations, or not criminals at all.
Secretary Janet Napolitano ended her speech by calling on Congress to reform the existing immigration laws in ways that they are concurrent with the needs of the country. Moreover, it is imperative that we have an overhaul of the immigration system in a way that includes fair and just enforcement policy and human rights for all.
Photo courtesy of flickr.com