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ICE Panel Calls for Changes to Secure Communities

Mike Corradini, JD on September 16, 2011

A federal task force created to provide political cover for the controversial Secure Communities (S-Comm) program has instead sharply criticized the program. The task force calls for changes to curb the mass deportation of undocumented immigrants who pose little or no threat to public safety. In a report released today (pdf), the Task Force on Secure Communities details the failings of a program that was intended to identify and deport only “the worst of the worst,” but has instead resulted in the deportation of tens of thousands of immigrants with little or no criminal history, as well as a massive increase in the use of immigration detention. While we applaud the panel’s efforts to reform S-Comm, Physicians for Human rights joins some members of the Task Force, as well as human rights organizations across the country, in calling for an end to this disastrous program.

Under S-Comm, the fingerprints of everyone booked into jails in the 1,508 participating state and local jurisdictions are sent to Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE), the federal agency charged with immigration enforcement. After cross-checking the fingerprints with its own database of immigrants who have been fingerprinted by an immigration official, ICE then confirms immigration status and can take the person into custody to begin deportation proceedings. Of the nearly 200,000 people that S-Comm swept into ICE custody between October 2008 and March, 57,000 had no criminal record whatsoever, and many more had convictions only for minor offenses, such as driving without a license. State and local jurisdictions that have resisted S-Comm were told by ICE that participation was mandatory, forcing them to take creative steps to get around the program.

The 19-member task force was created by ICE director John Morton in June to address concerns from immigrant rights organizations and state and local law enforcement agencies that S-Comm was undermining public safety and tearing apart communities. Originally tasked with examining narrow issues within S-Comm, the panel instead decided to hold hearings across the country to hear directly from those most affected by the program. Dozens of immigrants and their families told the panel how S-Comm had destroyed their families and created a climate of fear in their communities. Law enforcement representatives said that the program had undermined public safety and community policing efforts by making undocumented immigrants reluctant to report crimes for fear of being detained and deported.

Short of calling for an end to S-Comm, the panel’s report suggests changes aimed at preventing the deportation of immigrants arrested for traffic violations and other minor offenses.  While it remains to be seen if ICE will implement these changes and if they will have a meaningful effect, the panel’s conclusion that S-Comm undermines public safety is indisputable. Indeed, two of the panel’s members resigned before the report’s release, saying that its recommendations did not go far enough to protect immigrants and restore public trust in local law enforcement. PHR hopes that this report signals the beginning of the end of S-Comm and a shift to the humane enforcement of immigration laws.

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