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No Security in "Secure Communities"

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August 19, 2010

Yesterday, a New York Times op-ed blasted President Obama’s ramp-up of the “Secure Communities” program, an information-sharing program between federal Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) and local law enforcement agencies. Under Secure Communities, local jails run all arrestees’ fingerprints through not only criminal databases, but also immigration databases, in an effort to deport convicted drug traffickers, gang members, and other violent criminals. This screening happens even if the local prosecutor decides there’s no basis for a criminal charge.

The problem is, Secure Communities has led to racial profiling:

Critics warned that it would be an indiscriminate dragnet — ensnaring illegal immigrants without criminal records, and encouraging racial profiling. Sheriff Michael Hennessey of San Francisco objected to Secure Communities, saying it targeted too many noncriminals and would have a dangerous “chilling effect” on the willingness of communities to work with local law enforcement.

No surprise, as the Warren Institute at the University of California, Berkeley, found racial profiling resulted (PDF) when Irving, Texas, rolled out the Criminal Alien Program (CAP), a jail screening program very similar to Secure Communities: As we pointed out back in February:

[W]hen the local police knew that [CAP screening] would take place, they dramatically increased their arrests of Latinos, particularly for minor misdemeanor charges. Jail screenings have clearly led to racial profiling as local officers target “foreign-looking” motorists for traffic stops. Officers know that whether ICE takes the person into custody or the person turns out to be a U.S. citizen or lawful immigrant, if they can just sweep as many individuals as possible into the local jail, criminal charges can later be dropped and the officer will never be held to account for the unlawful stops.

In addition, Secure Communities’ success at deporting “the worst of the worst” is questionable. The NYT writes:

[…]The Immigration and Customs Enforcement records show that a vast majority, 79 percent, of people deported under Secure Communities had no criminal records or had been picked up for low-level offenses, like traffic violations and juvenile mischief. Of the approximately 47,000 people deported in that period only about 20 percent had been charged with or convicted of serious “Level 1” crimes, like assault and drug dealing.

Despite this lackluster performance, just last week, Department of Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano announced that Secure Communities has been deployed to all 25 Southwest border counties. Under President Obama, the program is operating in more than 450 communities in 24 states, with grand plans for nationwide deployment to every jail and prison in the country by 2013.

Time and again, law enforcement officials have warned us that programs that lead to racial profiling destroy public trust and makes it harder for them to do their jobs. Secure Communities destroys communities, and makes us all less safe.

h/t: Jackie Mahendra/America’s Voice

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