Blog of Rights

Latest Report on Obama Immigration Program Highlights Racial Profiling

By Sandhya Bathija, Washington Legislative Office at 11:39am

Soon after the Obama administration's centerpiece immigration program, Secure Communities, went into effect in West Virginia in 2009, patrons of a popular Latin dance club called Lobos drove into a trap.

One Sunday morning, police stopped three vehicles leaving the club, claiming failure to stop at a stop sign, among other minor traffic infractions. While none of the drivers — all Hispanic — received traffic citations, the eight people traveling in the cars were arrested, the first step toward deportation proceedings that are now pending in six of the cases.

The ACLU of Pennsylvania's Heather Hoechst with Kyara (right) and Kimberly, whose parents were racially profiled, stopped and arrested by state police after leaving an nightclub in West Virginia.

Under Secure Communities, anytime state or local police arrest and book someone in a local jail — regardless of the offense — his or her fingerprints are electronically run through ICE's immigration database. The program allows ICE to identify noncitizens in state and local custody and to initiate deportation proceedings against them — even before they have an opportunity to prove they did nothing wrong. ICE started the program in 14 jurisdictions in 2008, and it has since expanded to more than 1,500 jurisdictions in 44 states and territories with plans to expand the program nationwide by 2013.

When the ACLU affiliates of West Virginia and Pennsylvania visited the Lobos arrest site six months later, one of the attorneys discovered that there was no stop sign where a state trooper said the infraction took place. The trooper then changed his statement in the deportation proceedings from saying that a stop sign was ignored to saying that there was a failure to stop at an intersection. These stops in Inwood, W.V., were conducted by West Virginia State Police's Martinsburg detachment, which has since been shown to be twice as likely to stop Hispanic drivers as Caucasians.

It is now clear that this type of racial profiling is going on far beyond Inwood, W.V. A new statistical analysis shows that Secure Communities is having a heavily disproportionate effect on Latinos. The report's findings corroborate nationwide concerns about racial profiling, and further undermine the Administration's claims that this immigration enforcement strategy is race-neutral.

The report, published by the Warren Institute at the University of California, Berkeley Law School, shows that out of a sample set of individuals arrested by ICE under Secure Communities, a striking 93 percent were Latinos — even though Latinos make up only about three-quarters of the undocumented population in the United States, and just slightly over half of the foreign-born population. The report, which was detailed in The New York Times, analyzes ICE's own data obtained through FOIA litigation.

"We've long had anecdotal evidence that Secure Communities is fostering racial profiling, inviting law enforcement to single people out for arrest based on their race or perceived 'foreignness,'" said Kate Desormeau, staff attorney at the ACLU Immigrants' Rights Project. "The Warren Institute's report provides an empirical backdrop, suggesting that racial profiling is extraordinarily widespread. It's become very clear that there is simply no way to fix Secure Communities. It is hurting Latinos, undermining public safety, and it needs to be terminated."

ICE officials recently boasted about their record-breaking deportation rates for the third year in a row, deporting more than 1.2 million people at a rate that far exceeds that of the Bush administration. Officials often have credited the increase in deportation numbers to enforcement programs such as Secure Communities.

Department of Homeland Security (DHS) Secretary Napolitano recently renewed the administration's commitment to Secure Communities in a speech Oct. 5, arguing that the program primarily removes individuals with criminal records. Yet ICE's own statistics reveal that nearly 59 percent of all individuals deported under Secure Communities had only misdemeanor convictions or no criminal convictions whatsoever.

The Warren Institute's report also found that Secure Communities has resulted in the arrest of a significant number of U.S. citizens, and that 39 percent of individuals arrested through Secure Communities have a U.S. citizen spouse or child.  These findings come on the heels of this month's "Lost in Detention" documentary on PBS's Frontline, which revealed heart-breaking stories of families that have been torn apart by Secure Communities.

The Warren Institute's report further found that 83 percent of those arrested through Secure Communities are placed in immigration detention, that only one in four are represented by counsel, and that only about half are given an opportunity to appear before an immigration judge — raising serious due process concerns. It is long past time to terminate this irreparably flawed program.

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