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Obama Administration Fails to Halt Runaway "Secure Communities" Train, Ignoring Complaints of Governors, Congress, and Law Enforcement Leaders

Joanne Lin,
Senior Legislative Counsel,
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June 21, 2011

Last Friday the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) and Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) announced their proposed changes to the much-criticized Secure Communities (S-Comm) program, the centerpiece of the Obama administration’s immigration enforcement program. The administration’s proposals, including statistical monitoring of the program, development of training modules for local law enforcement jurisdictions, and formation of an advisory committee, amount to nothing more than window dressing and fail to answer the growing tide of criticism by the governors of Illinois, Massachusetts and New York, the Congressional Hispanic Caucus, the Congressional Progressive Caucus, law enforcement officials, civil rights advocates, and immigrant communities across the country.

In particular, the Obama administration has completely failed to remedy the many civil rights problems associated with S-Comm, including racial profiling and pretextual arrests made by state and local law enforcement officers in S-Comm jurisdictions. The administration has placed principal responsibility of S-Comm oversight with the DHS Office of Civil Rights and Civil Liberties (OCRCL). DHSadmits, however, that OCRCL does not have jurisdiction to investigate complaints involving state and local police accused of racial profiling in S-Comm jurisdictions. Moreover, the new training to be developed by OCRCL for state and local law enforcement agencies will be purely optional, not mandatory, thereby making it highly unlikely that local law enforcement agencies with histories of racial profiling will ever participate in such trainings.

The administration’s announcement also fails to heed the cries of domestic violence survivors and other crime victims who have been ensnared in the S-Comm dragnet. There have been numerous reported cases of domestic violence survivors who have been deported after they called the police for help and ended up being arrested. Immigrant communities across the country (and the organizations that provide services to them) have begun to spread the word that crime victims should not call the police for help. The Obama administration issued a memorandum reminding agents to “exercise all appropriate discretion,” but this does nothing meaningful to address the chilling effect that has been created by S-Comm in immigrant communities who now fear that any run-in with the police, including as a witness or victim of a crime, will lead to deportation.

Finally, after two years of misrepresenting the nature of S-Comm as optional for localities, the administration has done an about-face and is now threatening to sue any states that refuse to participate, regardless of the judgments of state and local leaders who know their community needs and crime trends best.

The administration has squandered a critical opportunity to address well-documented concerns regarding the deeply flawed and unauthorized S-Comm program. Instead of heeding the mounting evidence that should halt this runaway train, the administration has chosen to accelerate it without fixing the core problems that persist. No one should be distracted by the administration’s proposed cosmetic fixes. Secure Communities is a misnomer, hurting our communities and making us all less secure.

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