Since its inception, the Secure Communities program hasco-opted state and local law enforcement agencies to detain and deport tens ofthousands of undocumented immigrants who have been arrested for (but often notconvicted of) traffic violations and other petty offenses. While the statedgoal of this program – ensuring that violent criminals are removed from the US– is laudable, many states and localities have attempted to opt out of theprogram since it became clear that the overwhelming majority of immigrants whoare apprehended by the program are guilty only of being in the US withoutpermission. Additionally, concerns have been raised that implementation of Secure Communities significantlyundermines cooperation between police and immigrant communities and can lead tounder-reporting of crimes, thereby impacting both citizen and non-citizensalike. However, Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE), the agency of theDepartment of Homeland Security responsible for its administration, has made itclear that the program is mandatory – and that local law enforcement will haveto continue to participate in a deeply flawed program that destroys familiesand communities while undermining the public trust in local law enforcement.
As legal challenges to Secure Communities make their waythrough courts across the country, Cook County, Illinois has found a bold andcreative way around this destructive program. Last week, the Cook County Boardof Commissioners voted to stop complying with ICE requests to hold immigrantsconvicted of misdemeanors and traffic violations. These requests, known as“detainers,” ask local jurisdictions to hold immigrants wanted by ICE for up to48 hours so that ICE can detain them and begin deportation proceedings. Themonetary cost of these detainers is borne completely by the state or localjurisdiction – in Cook County alone, complying with ICE detainers costs the countyapproximately $15 million each year. The cost in terms of communitytrust in local law enforcement, to say nothing of family and communitycohesion, is immeasurable.
Cook County’s courageous stand against this destructiveprogram sets an example for every other jurisdiction that has tried to opt outof Secure Communities. By continuing to comply with ICE requests to hold felons(but declining to hold misdemeanor and traffic violators), Cook Countycontinues to serve Secure Communities’ goal of removing the most dangerousoffenders from the country, but also shows that ICE’s overbroad administrationof the program is completely unnecessary to achieve its goals. And by taking acommon-sense approach to protecting its residents and communities, Cook Countyis an inspiring example for like-minded localities across the country.