Secure Communities deporting noncriminal immigrants 'a feature, not a flaw' says report

Despite months of protestations to the contrary, a recent report finds that the Secure Communities program continues to deport immigrants with traffic offenses, or even people who were victims of crime, despite its stated goal to focus only on serious criminals.

A report by the Immigrant Rights Clinic at the University of California at Irvine's law school said that the ensnaring of noncriminal immigrants has been painted as a flaw of the program, but instead U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement's "failure to adhere to its own stated priorities is a feature" of Secure Communities.

"The program has been constructed and implemented on the assumption that if an individual has any contact with law enforcement--even if that contact stems from a traffic offense--that individual represents a threat to the community," the report said. Along with cases of immigrants without any criminal offenses being deported, the report also found individuals deported due to cases of mistaken identity.

Under President Barack Obama's administration's Secure Communities, local law enforcement agencies share all fingerprint information they collect with the U.S. Department of Homeland Security.

Using the database, the  immigration agency then determines if an offender is an immigrant. If so, the immigration agency can then place a "detainer" requesting that a jail to hold them for up to 48 hours for immigration processing--usually a deportation.

A Chicago Reporter's cover investigation, The Allure of Secure, found that, since the program was launched in 2008, thousands of immigrants deported under Secure Communities were never charged or convicted of any crimes at all.

"In Illinois, 3,023 people were booked into immigration custody between Nov. 24, 2009, and July 25, 2011, under Secure Communities, but 1,397 of them, or 46 percent, were never charged with, or convicted of, the crimes for which they were arrested," the investigation found.

Cook County has resisted Secure Communities through a policy of not honoring a detainer unless the federal government covers the cost of holding an immigrant.

But Tania Unzueta, an organizer with the Immigrant Youth Justice League, said even living near a county active in the program can have consequences. "People don't just live in one space. We have member of our organization that travel in between counties to go to work or to school," she said.

This may change soon, however, when Secure Communities becomes mandatory in 2013. A memo released in January by U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement director Jon Morton said that "choices available to law enforcement agencies who have thus far decided to decline or limit their participation in current information-sharing processes will be streamlined and aspects eliminated. In that way, the process, in essence, becomes 'mandatory' in 2013, when the more direct method will be in place."

But Unzueta, whose group uses civil disobedience to bring attention to the plight of undocumented youth, said that mandatory Secure Communities will only exacerbate what immigrants in Cook County already deal with.

"I have been involved in fighting cases of deportation for the last two years," Unzueta said, "and people keep getting put into deportation."

"What [immigration authorities] say they are doing is creating safer spaces, when they are just criminalizing immigrants."

© Community Renewal Society 2012

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