Defying States on Immigration, Obama Mandates 'Secure Communities' Program

on August 08 2011 2:55 PM
At Issue: U.S. Immigaration Policy
A Guatemalan illegal immigrant prepares to board a plane at a flight operations unit at the Phoenix-Mesa Gateway airport during his deportation process in Mesa, Arizona July 10, 2009. REUTERS

The U.S. Department of Homeland Security quietly reversed course Friday and said states could no longer opt out of a controversial immigration enforcement program known as Secure Communities.

Secure Communities compels local law enforcement officers to share information about new arrests with federal immigration authorities, but its tendency to cause the deportations of immigrants who have no criminal record or committed only minor offenses has generated a backlash from law enforcement officials, immigrant communities and state lawmakers. Govs. Andrew Cuomo of New York, Patrick Quinn of Illinois and Deval Patrick of Massachusetts cited such concerns when they moved to suspend their states' participation in the program, rejections that amounted to rebukes from Democrats and allies of President Barack Obama.

The Obama administration overrode those objections by having the Department of Homeland Security terminate its Memoranda of Agreements, contracts containing a provision that allowed participating states to opt out of Secure Communities. Enforcing that directive will be made easier by the fact that the databases sharing state arrest information with the federal government are already running.

"Now that the states have activated Secure Communities and the federal government no longer needs their participation, they're just ignoring the states' concerns about how the policy is affecting their communities," said Jackie Esposito, director of immigration advocacy for the New York Immigration Coalition. "The question is how the Obama administration can move forward on a public policy that has faced criticism from such a wide array of groups across the country."

Obama has faced intensifying criticism for embracing a raft of aggressive immigration enforcement policies that have resulted in a record number of deportations, Secure Communities among them. He has promised to pursue comprehensive immigration reform, telling Latino supporters recently that Republicans are preventing a compromise, but his decision to double down on Secure Communities has provided immigrant advocates with another example of what they see as doublespeak.

"There's no question the administration is aggressively pursuing enforcement measures against immigrant communities despite the fact that the president as recently as a couple weeks ago publicly stated that he is committed to immigration reform," Esposito said. "Basically what's happening is the president is saying one thing and then DHS, under his leadership, is doing another."

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