ICE Panel Calls for Changes to Secure Communities

A federal task force created toprovide political cover for the controversial Secure Communities (S-Comm)program has instead sharply criticized the program. The task force calls for changesto curb the mass deportation of undocumented immigrants who pose little or nothreat to public safety. In a report released today (pdf), the Task Force on SecureCommunities details the failings of a program that was intended to identify anddeport only “the worst of the worst,” but has instead resulted in thedeportation of tens of thousands of immigrants with little or no criminalhistory, 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 Humanrights joins some members of the Task Force, as well as human rightsorganizations across the country, in calling for an end to this disastrousprogram.

Under S-Comm, the fingerprints ofeveryone booked into jails in the 1,508 participating state and localjurisdictions are sent to Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE), thefederal agency charged with immigration enforcement. After cross-checking thefingerprints with its own database of immigrants who have been fingerprinted byan immigration official, ICE then confirms immigration status and can take theperson into custody to begin deportation proceedings. Of the nearly 200,000people 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 forminor offenses, such as driving without a license. State and localjurisdictions that have resisted S-Comm were told by ICE that participation wasmandatory, forcing them to take creative steps to get around the program.

The 19-member task force wascreated by ICE director John Morton in June to address concerns from immigrantrights organizations and state and local law enforcement agencies that S-Commwas undermining public safety and tearing apart communities. Originally taskedwith examining narrow issues within S-Comm, the panel instead decided to holdhearings across the country to hear directly from those most affected by theprogram. Dozens of immigrants and their families told the panel how S-Comm had destroyedtheir families and created a climate of fear in their communities. Lawenforcement representatives said that the program had undermined public safetyand 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 ofimmigrants arrested for traffic violations and other minor offenses.  While it remains to be seen if ICE willimplement these changes and if they will have a meaningful effect, the panel’sconclusion that S-Comm undermines public safety is indisputable. Indeed, two ofthe panel’s members resigned before the report’s release, saying that itsrecommendations did not go far enough to protect immigrants and restore publictrust in local law enforcement. PHR hopes that this report signals thebeginning of the end of S-Comm and a shift to the humane enforcement ofimmigration laws.

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