Obama Urged to Reform Deportation Program 'Secure Communities'

 
on September 16 2011 9:45 AM
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

A centerpiece of the Obama administration's immigration policy drew its sharpest criticism yet, as a major task force urged U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement to overhaul the embattled Secure Communities program.

The task force, which included law enforcement chiefs from four major cities as well as immigrant advocates and state homeland security officials, released a report detailing the extent to which Secure Communities has driven a wedge between the federal government and state governments, bred distrust of law enforcement and failed in its goal of deporting the worst of the worst immigrant criminals.

Secure Communities compels local and state police to enter the fingerprints of anyone they arrest into both the F.B.I.'s criminal database and Immigration and the Department of Homeland Security's database, which includes records of immigration violations. The program is intended to target immigrants who have committed serious or violent crimes, but it has resulted in the deportations of many immigrants who are guilty of only minor offenses, the task force found.

Lumping All Offenders Together: Problematic

In addition to fracturing immigrants communities and breaking up families, that has led immigrants to view police officers with distrust, seeing them as instruments of federal immigration policy, the report charges.

You can't mix in low-level offenders and not lose credibility in the communities, said Chuck Wexler, the executive director of the Police Executive Research Forum and chairman of the task force.

That means that Secure Communities is having the unintended consequence of undermining public safety by reducing cooperation with law enforcement, the report said, noting that  to the extent that Secure Communities may damage community policing, the result can be greater levels of crime.

The report also criticized the federal government for being unclear and inconsistent about whether states and cities were required to participate in Secure Communities. Several states sought to opt out of the program, believing their participation was voluntary, only to be overruled and told it was mandatory.

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