In last week’s episode of the television drama The Good Wife, the devastating effects of the Department of Homeland Security's (DHS) Secure Communities program took center stage. Actress America Ferrara guest starred as Natalie Flores, a Latina student whose father, Mr. Flores, is swept up in an overzealous Chicago police officer’s attempt to secure an arrest for a neighborhood burglary. The officer, looking for a “Hispanic burglar with a weapon,” targeted Mr. Flores because of his appearance, pulled him over, and arrested him despite the fact that neither the make or model of Mr. Flores’s car, nor his age and physical appearance, matched that of the burglary suspect.
Unfortunately, this kind of racial profiling is not just happening on television. Mr. Flores’s story, although fictional, is representative of thousands of cases in the United States. In fact, racial profiling takes place every day in communities across the country and is becoming more prevalent as DHS programs like Secure Communities are implemented in localities across the nation.
Under DHS's Secure Communities program, any time an individual is arrested and booked into a participating jail for any reason, his or her fingerprints are sent to DHS’s database, allowing the agency to identify noncitizens in local custody and initiate deportation proceedings against them. Because Secure Communities captures the fingerprints of everyone booked into local custody — even those who are wrongfully arrested by local police or whose criminal charges are dropped — the program invites local law enforcement to arrest people whom they suspect are immigrants, often based solely on appearance, simply to bring them into jail and forward their fingerprints to DHS. Of course, this suspicion is rarely based on anything but the way a person looks or talks. This practice is dangerous, discriminatory and fundamentally un-American.
Like thousands of others arrested in real Secure Communities jurisdictions across the country, Natalie’s father was booked in a local jail where an officer entered his information into “the system.” His attorney’s pleas to local law enforcement — “he’s innocent of the burglary, but he will be deported if you keep holding on to him” — fell on deaf ears. The fact that he had committed no crime and had no criminal record did not matter. Local police were fully aware that once Mr. Flores’s information was sent to DHS, federal immigration officers would initiate deportation proceedings against him.
Mr. Flores’s case illustrates the fact that thousands of individuals swept up and deported by DHS Secure Communities have no criminal record at all.
By a miracle only made possible by the magic of screenwriting fiction, Mr. Flores escapes deportation and is able to return home to his family. But this is rarely the case. For the tens of thousands of immigrants who confront this same scenario, there is no happy ending.