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Opting For Real Security, More States Withdrawing From “Secure Communities”
Suman Raghunathan on June 9, 2011 - 11:35am
As states continue to reject misguided anti-immigrant SB 1070 proposals — sixteen have defeated or tabled broad immigration enforcement bills this session alone — governors are joining the chorus of state lawmakers speaking out against expensive and ineffective immigration enforcement programs. A groundswell of opposition to Secure Communities, the flawed federal immigration enforcement program, is emerging in state after state.
In the last month alone, three states — Illinois, New York, and Massachusetts — have withdrawn wholesale from participating in the federal Secure Communities immigration enforcement program. During the past week, Massachusetts Governor Deval Patrick and New York Governor Mario Cuomo both announced they would suspend their states' participation. Colorado Governor John Hickenlooper is also questioning the program's effectiveness, and announced this week that he will be re-examining the state's participation in the controversial program. Municipalities are also speaking out against Secure Communities — this week the Los Angeles City Council approved a resolution to withdraw the city from participation in the program.
New York and Massachusetts join Illinois, where Governor Pat Quinn was the first to announce his decision last month to rescind his state's participation in the flawed and ineffective federal program, itself currently under investigation by the Department of Homeland Security's Inspector General.
Secure Communities is essentially a data-sharing initiative, but one with wide implications for community policing and state immigration enforcement. The federal Department of Homeland Security enters into agreements with states — often without notifying state and local law enforcement of the fact — to require that all who are stopped by police are screened against federal immigration databases as they are booked. This often means that individuals picked up through Secure Communities are those who were stopped by police on suspicion of committing a misdemeanor such as driving with a broken tail light or not stopping at a stop sign. In practice, the majority of those picked up through Secure Communities have committed no crime at all. Nevertheless, if an individual is found to lack immigration status — even if they have not been convicted of any crime — that individual is automatically flagged to immigration authorities, detained, and often rapidly deported.
The program, initially billed as a voluntary agreement with no additional resources made available to states, purports to focus on apprehending and deporting immigrants who commit violent crimes. Yet despite these lofty goals, the effort has been shown to be woefully ineffective: more than half of those picked up through the program are undocumented immigrants who have in fact committed no crimes at all, and are nevertheless quickly deported.
Law enforcement professionals such as legendary New York former District Attorney Robert Morgenthau and Salt Lake City Police Chief Chris Burbank have applauded the decisions by Illinois, New York, and Massachusetts, noting police officers' lack of interest in enforcing federal immigration laws and the damage caused to community policing practices when local law enforcement become de facto immigration agents. As a result, law enforcement officers burdened with these additional duties often find their time and attention diverted from pursuing violent criminals in communities. They point out such programs deter immigrant residents from serving as witnesses and assisting police with investigating crimes, making communities as a whole less safe. Analysts also note municipalities that have adopted community policing strategies such as New York City; New Haven, Connecticut; and Travis County, Texas have seen their crime rates plummet once police officers have informed immigrant residents they will not be asked for proof of immigration status when interacting with law enforcement.
Many legislators and advocates are also raising concerns about the high costs being forced upon state and local law enforcement agencies as a result of misguided and ineffective immigration enforcement initiatives such as Secure Communities. Many believe the program, which began in 2008 and is slated to operate in every state nationwide by 2013 is woefully ineffective and have in fact done little to address violent crime while resulting in record deportation levels – roughly 400,000 annually under the Obama Administration, which surpasses deportation levels seen under President Bush.
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This article is part of PSN's email newsletter, The Stateside Dispatch.
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