Civil Rights Vlog #6: Clement Yu on the Secure Communities Program
By Clement Yu, Government Affairs Intern
Immigration Laws and the Induced Inequalities on the Intentional Immigrant Thereafter
What was true at the time of the first records of immigration holds true to this day: America, land of the free and home of the brave, is a nation built on immigrants. It is the country’s strength and pride, the source from which ethnic diversity and the amalgamation of cultures springs forth. At the same time, in recent years the influx of foreigners onto American shores has served as the subject line for heated controversy, especially in regards to how the nation should go about addressing the issue of illegal immigration.
The contention with immigration is a sentiment that most Americans can readily identify with, as it bears shades of grey concerning its reception. On one hand, given that America was founded on the immigrant class, the foreign flavour that immigrants bring to the U.S. makes the nation second to none in the field of diversity.
However, the variance among Americans also poses as a potential threat to the security of American jobs, since now there is more competition amidst willing workers for a set number of viable job openings. Not at stake, however, is the security of the incumbent American people, a firm yet misguided assumption that perpetuates the actions that states take to address immigration. Anti-illegal immigration laws that are both politically and ethically laced with racial profiling have created a domino effect across the nation that consistently drives the dangerous and false stereotype that immigrant is synonymous with criminal.
To better understand the conundrum that is immigration in its most contemporary sense, one must first look into the history of modern immigration to the United States, starting with the Secure Communities program (SComm). Created in 2007 under the George W. Bush administration, SComm is a program that enables correctional officers to submit fingerprints of all individuals arrested for alleged criminal conduct for a comparison against a Homeland Security database of immigration violations, as well as state and FBI criminal databases.
The program was originally formed within ICE (Immigration and Customs Enforcement), the interior immigration enforcement agency of the Department of Homeland Security (DHS), to focus on those who have been arrested for breaking criminal laws. According to the ICE website description of the SComm initiative, it “prioritizes the removal of criminal aliens, those who pose a threat to public safety, and repeat immigration violators.” Since the time of its inception in 2008, SComm has grown from a mere recruitment base of 14 jurisdictions under the Bush administration to now over 1,400 jurisdictions under the Obama administration’s fervent expansion of the program, mostly notably along the U.S.-Mexico Border. A visual aide of the geographic spread of SComm in the U.S. is provided below:
The biometric information sharing capability that the program relies on to document individuals with past criminal offenses is currently activated in 1,453 jurisdictions (counties) in 44 states and territories, and it is the stated goal of ICE to use the information sharing databases nationwide by 2013. As per ICE records, SComm has helped to identify over 38,000 immigrants who have been deported for convictions for felonies or misdemeanors, a sure point of pride for the young program.
However, though SComm is supposed to aim at capturing the perpetual criminal, the program has evolved into one that now focuses more on catching illegal immigrants rather than actual proven criminals. The veracity of this statement can be found in the aftermath of The Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) litigation, when ICE was forced to admit that about 30% of those deported through SComm have absolutely no criminal convictions. Another 30% have only minor misdemeanor offenses, yielding an astounding 60% failure rate on the part of SComm, if its mission statement to deport “criminal aliens” is to be taken seriously.
Public opposition to SComm has been building, predominantly based on citations concerning the program’s effectiveness and potential for racial profiling. On May 4, 2011, Illinois became the first state to withdraw from the SComm program when Gov. Pat Quinn informed ICE of the state’s decision through a letter. As of September 30, 2010, in Illinois alone over 50% of those deported through SComm were of non-criminal status. Since then, similar letters of termination have been submitted from the desks of New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo on June 1 and Massachusetts Gov. Deval Patrick on June 3, 2011, making it a total of three states to officially opt out of the program thus far.
(Read withdrawal letters sent to USCIS: Gov. Pat Quinn-IL, Gov. Andrew Cuomo-NY, Gov. Deval Patrick-MA.)
Recent comments by Sheriff Patrick Perez of Kane County, Illinois suggest that the program has deterred people in the community from reporting crimes out of a fear for being deported. The risk of deportation without a criminal record leads to a distrust in law enforcement on the part of individuals within communities, and this fear makes it less likely for people to call on the police in times of need. Immigrants will be more reluctant than ever in seeking out aide from law enforcement officers, since the stereotype of them having the mere appearance of someone who “could” commit a crime works against them so heavily. Both state officials and federal lawmakers have publicly voiced their disapproval for the program, referencing the deteriorating faith that exists among the individual, community, and law, which ultimately makes everyone less safe.
Apprehending undocumented immigrants with civil immigrant violations is actually the job of ICE, and it goes directly against the distinct goal of SComm to stretch its focus into the larger aim of ICE. By forcing police departments to do the specific task of ICE, the DHS is creating an environment of distrust, which ultimately leaves everyone feeling less safe than before the program was formed. SComm is not providing the solution required in dealing with the issue of immigration—it is exacerbating it.
SComm has only been one of many cases in which measures on the state and federal levels have strayed away from their intended purpose and ventured dangerously close to racial profiling. After the controversial passage of Arizona’s immigration law (Arizona SB 1070) on April 23, 2010, several states have followed suit in dealing with the issue of illegal immigration. Massachusetts, Indiana, Utah and most recently Georgia have all signed and passed, within the past year, anti-illegal immigration bills of their own. Essentially, such bills allow local police officers to arbitrarily question any and all individuals of their immigration status, assuming there is “reasonable suspicion.”
Of course, the vagueness of what actually constitutes as a “reasonable suspicion” is grossly ambiguous, thus leading to many cases of racial profiling based on nothing more than physical appearance. Furthermore, since those of Hispanic, black, and Arab semblance have historically been “randomly” stopped most frequently, individuals from such backgrounds are at an even greater risk of being stopped periodically.
Though federal court has stepped in and blocked many provisions of state immigration laws from going into full effect, it remains to be said that the passage of such laws is not only a response to the concern of illegal immigration with the U.S., but it is also definitive of the actions that states take in response to the lack of immigration law enforcement on the federal level. The issue is of federal responsibility and proportion, and inability at the top to address such affairs leads to cases of civil liberty violations, as mentioned in light of racial profiling.
It certainly is the priority of state and federal administrations to protect the security and safety of its people, but certainly not at the cost of sacrificing the equal opportunity and freedom of the very people the country aims to defend. There is no dismissing the inevitable intent of criminals to try and enter the country for their own self-advancement, but let not the liberties of the immigrant population be subject to the course of action due for the aforementioned group.
There must be a middle ground that is reached, most adequately on the federal level, to effectively seek out and deport the criminals amidst the greater population, without criminalizing everyone else in the process. Legal immigrants, though they in countenance may differ from that of the “ordinary” Caucasian citizen, are still citizens nonetheless, and thus deserve to be afforded the same civil liberties as their fellow American peers. Theirs, too, is the opportunity for freedom and success, and it would be downright criminal to deny them such a right.
ICE “website” – http://www.ice.gov/secure_communities/
“(FOIA) litigation” – http://altopolimigra.com/2011/06/02/new-york-suspends-secure-communities-program/
“Gov. Pat Quinn” – http://ndlon.org/pdf/2011-05ilterminate.pdf
“Gov. Andrew Cuomo” – http://www.governor.ny.gov/assets/Secure%20Communities.pdf