Secure Communities, a program of Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) involving closer cooperation between federal immigration authorities and state and local law enforcement, is coming under fire from an increasing number of immigrant advocates and others. Critics contend that the program does not target the people the people it originally intended to pursue, such as violent criminals and other imminent threats to public safety. They also argue that it makes the overall goal of fighting crime more difficult by breaking down trust between immigrant communities and local police and by contributing to racial profiling.
The Department of Homeland Security (DHS) first launched Secure Communities in 2007. It allows agents and officials from DHS, ICE, and other agencies to check immigration statuses of people detained by local law enforcement. Local police and the FBI share fingerprint data with DHS in order to compare detainees' data across multiple federal databases. DHS can ask local law enforcement to hold people in jails forty-eight hours past their intended release date if DHS believes they might be deportable or removable. The original intent of Secure Communities was allegedly to focus immigration enforcement efforts on violent and habitual criminals, people deemed to be threats to national security, and repeat immigration violators. The program is active in seventy-nine percent of U.S. jurisdictions as of March 20, 2012, according to ICE's website for the program, and it is expected to be in effect nationwide by 2013.
This Immigration Visa Lawyer Blog has reported on concerns over Secure Communities several times recently. We reported that implementation of the program has been gradual in states like Ohio but had progressed quickly in California. DHS announced in January that it was restricting the access of Maricopa County, Arizona Sheriff Joe Arpaio to federal databases included in the program, citing concerns about racial profiling and other discriminatory conduct.
At the same time, when some states, such as Illinois and New York, have tried to opt out of the program, DHS has informed them that they must still provide fingerprint data for local detainees. ICE has challenged the decision by Cook County, Illinois to ignore requests from federal officials for 48-hour holds on prisoners. The relationship between local law enforcement and federal immigration authorities, as it pertains to immigration investigation and enforcement, is uncertain to say the least.
According to ICE, from 2008 until January 2012, forty-four percent of people deported through Secure Communities were described as level 1 and 2 offenders, meaning those convicted of serious crimes, and thirty percent had convictions for misdemeanors and other minor offenses, called level 3 offenders. In contrast, a Michigan-based advocacy group, Alliance for Immigrants' Rights and Reform (AIR), issued a report that claims that seventy-two percent of deportation in Michigan through Secure Communities between October 2009 and April 2011 were of non-criminals and low-level offenders.