Last week, Department of Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano defended a budgetary request to expand the highly controversial Secure Communities program. When the program was launched by the federal government in 2008, it was presented as a smart and effective way to find and deport undocumented immigrants with serious criminal convictions. It uses biometric information-sharing technology, such as fingerprint scans, to cross-check federal criminal and immigration records of anyone booked into a local jail.
Since then, Napolitano has repeatedly and proudly proclaimed that Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) deported nearly 400,000 undocumented immigrants for the 2011 fiscal year, a record-breaking number of deportations for the United States. Her department also claims that a record number of those deported are immigrants convicted of serious crimes.
However, upon further investigation, these statistics are complicated by opposing definitions of “criminal alien,” the term used by ICE to refer to deportees with convictions. According to the LA Times, more than half of the approximately 150,000 immigrants deported since October of 2011 had either no criminal convictions or minor ones, such as minor traffic violations. Furthermore, it was recently revealed that the Secure Communities program has also managed to detain and mistakenly deport over 3,000 U.S. citizens. The most recent of which were four U.S. citizens from Los Angeles.
Larry Rifkin, managing partner at a Florida-based immigration law firm, said, “One begins to wonder, after over 3,000 U.S. citizens were deported, if this really was a mistake. Many would assume it was targeting, plain and simple.”
To add to the controversy, the Secure Communities program was originally thought to be optional for local law enforcement agencies and is now, instead, becoming mandatory. Indeed, Napolitano’s latest department budget outlined funding to complete nationwide expansion by 2013. In a letter to Congress, Napolitano explains an opt-out process for local authorities that involves formally notifying the assistant director of the Secure Communities program. However, an ICE press release clarified by saying that upon receipt of an opt-out request, the department would meet with federal jurisdiction partners to come to a resolution, which may include adjusting the local law enforcement’s activation date for the program. The news came after counties in California, Virginia, and Washington D.C. had already voted to opt-out of the program.
It is quite obvious that the Secure Communities program has some major inherent issues. There is something inherently wrong about expanding a program with so much opposition on a national level, especially one with the track record of Secure Communities. With growing allegations of wrongfully deported immigrants, and even U.S. citizens, it is simply false for the government to claim that the Secure Communities program is deporting the worst or most dangerous immigrants. It raises questions of who the program is really targeting. Deporting undocumented immigrants and U.S. citizens with no criminal convictions does not make our communities more secure.