Matt Potter 11:51 a.m., Sept. 20
"Secure Communities" Program No Longer Voluntary
Last Friday, U.S. Immigrations and Customs Enforcement announced it was terminating memorandums of understanding it had entered into with 39 states regarding its Secure Communities program. The program itself, however, is not changing.
Under Secure Communities, the FBI gathers fingerprints taken by local authorities during routine arrests and makes them available to Immigration. The prints can then be compared against an immigration database to determine whether an arrestee can be deported, either due to the nature of the crime or because the person is found to be in the country illegally.
According to Immigration, the program has grown from 14 local jurisdictions in 2008 to cover over 1,300 today. The agreements, a sample of which can be found here, have brought criticism about inconsistency in the program’s application and deception in their adoption. Illinois, Massachusetts, and New York recently attempted to terminate their agreements as allowed under the memorandums.
Immigration responded by cancelling all such agreements, while maintaining that they could continue to operate the program without the consent of state or local authorities. “[Immigration] has determined that a [memorandum] is not required to activate or operate Secure Communities for any jurisdiction,” wrote Immigration director John Morton.
“Once a state or local law enforcement agency voluntarily submits fingerprint data to the federal government, no agreement with the state is legally necessary for one part of the federal government to share it with another part.”
While participation in the program was initially believed to be voluntary, officials now see inclusion as mandatory. While about half the country participates now (including complete coverage along the southern border), Immigration is targeting 100 percent participation nationwide by 2013.
Defending the database cross-referencing program, Immigration says it has limited funding available to deport more than 10 million individuals estimated to reside in the U.S. illegally. It claims on its website that, by prioritizing deportation efforts according to instances of criminal arrest, Secure Communities has led to a 71 percent increase in the number of convicted criminals expelled from the country.
“Through April 30, 2011, more than 77,000 immigrants convicted of crimes, including more than 28,000 convicted of aggravated felony (level 1) offenses like murder, rape and the sexual abuse of children were removed from the United States after identification through Secure Communities,” says Immigration.
Detractors say the program effectively turns local police into federal immigration officers, forcing them to spend extra time processing and holding detainees until Immigration can respond to immigration violations. Some also say the program could deter the undocumented from reporting crimes, particularly in domestic violence incidents, where both parties are often detained until the situation can be assessed.
San Francisco Sheriff Michael Hennessey says he intends to defy the requirements of the program. Speaking to the San Francisco Examiner, Hennessey says that his office will not detain criminals charged with minor crimes that generally result in citation and release, even if ordered to detain them on immigration charges by Immigration.
“The city of refuge law says we are not supposed to comply with federal officials except with felonies. I’m just doing our best to enforce local law. That’s my job,” says Hennessey, citing San Francisco’s status as a “sanctuary city.”
From June 2010 through February 2011, the Examiner says 111 people were deported after being identified through Secure Communities for no crime other than entering the country illegally. 85 were deported for low-level offenses such as shoplifting, drinking in public, or drug possession, and 45 deported were guilty of felonies.