New York lawmakers rallied on Monday against the Obama administration ordering states to implement a controversial immigration enforcement program.
Known as Secure Communities, the program enlists state and local law enforcement officers to help pursue undocumented immigrants by requiring officers to enter the fingerprints of anyone they arrest into a federal database. Officials at the U.S. Department of Homeland Security can then check those prints for a match and, if the person arrested is undocumented, initiate deportation proceedings.
Some Democratic states have pushed back and sought to suspend their participation in the program, New York among them. In addition to voicing concerns that the program was leading to the indiscriminate deportation of massive numbers of immigrants, officials said they had been misled about whether the program was mandatory.
But the Obama administration overrode those objections and affirmed last week that Secure Communities would be activated across New York on Tuesday, part of a push to establish the program as a nationwide initiative.
Elected officials denounced the decision during a Monday morning press conference on the steps of City Hall in New York City. They criticized the program for eroding trust between immigrants and law enforcement and said it failed in its goal of targeting the worst of the worst -- immigrants who have criminal records or who pose a threat to public safety -- and instead has pushed out many immigrants whose only offenses are low-level misdemeanors or immigration violations like overstaying visas. Others noted that Secure Communities may in fact be undermining public safety by discouraging immigrants from cooperating with the police out of fear they will be deported.
I implore the secretary of Homeland Security to do what's right, U.S. Rep. Nydia Velazquez (D-NY) said, noting that she has sent Secretary of Homeland Security Janet Napolitano a letter urging her to delay the program's expansion. This is not the way to address the issue of a broken immigration system, Velazquez added.
State Senator Rivera: We Don't Want 'Secure Communities' Program In NY
Several speakers invoked Governor Andrew Cuomo, praising him for pushing back against the federal government and condemning the Obama administration for defying New York's attempt to opt out.
We are outraged that the federal government is overstepping what New York said clearly last year: that we don't want Secure Communities in our state or city, said State Senator Gustavo Rivera, who represents part of the Bronx.
This is not a program that makes our communities safer, Rivera added, suggesting that victims or witnesses to crimes are wary of going to the police. It makes our communities less safe, and we will not stand idly by.
A task force convened by the Obama administration urged reforms in a September report, saying Secure Communities was pitting local governments against federal authorities and hurting the credibility of law enforcement officers. The Department of Homeland Security responded recently by announcing a change that would lead to fewer immigrants being detained after routine traffic stops.
But elected officials in New York said the administration had offered only minor tweaks and largely ignored criticisms of the program.
We should not be forced to turn central booking into a clearinghouse for deportation, said City Council member Melissa Mark-Viverito.