ICE Undermines Its Own Goals with Secure Communities and 287(g) Programs
Long before Arizona’s controversial immigration law, SB 1070, made headlines for creating prime conditions for discriminatory policing, there were already a few federal programs that delegated immigration enforcement duties to local police: The Secure Communities and 287(g) programs.
These programs not only set precedents that made SB 1070 possible; they’ve been driving record numbers of deportations, and doing a lot of the things critics of SB 1070 feared it would do—sweeping up large numbers of non-criminals for deportation, and opening the door to racial profiling and pretextual arrests.
Yesterday, The Immigration Policy Center released a report by Michele Walsin [PDF] documenting how Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE)’s current programs and practices undermine their stated priority of deporting criminals.
Because it’s not financially possible to deport the United States’ entire undocumented population, ICE's stated goal is to focus on people who’ve committed crimes and pose a threat to their communities.
The latest ICE data shows that significant numbers of non-criminals get caught up in the wide net these programs cast:
According to the latest ICE data, between October 2009 and September 10, 2010, Secure Communities resulted in 49,638 removals, of which 23 percent were for Level 1 crimes, 49 percent were for Level 2 and Level 3 crimes, and 28% were non-criminals. During the same time period, 24 percent of Secure Communities arrests were Level 1, while 30 percent were noncriminals. 32 Examinations of ICE’s Secure Communities statistics reveals that those identified by Secure Communities include large numbers of individuals with no criminal history, individuals charged with (but not convicted of) crimes, and legal immigrants with prior convictions that make them deportable.
Basically, by using these partnerships to increase its deportation figures, the federal government gives up control over front-line enforcement to local police, opening up the door to subjective judgment calls—essentially, all of the problems that plague everyday policing.
A number of local governments understand this and have been trying to opt out of the Secure Communities program. But residents of Arlington, Va., and San Francisco learned this week this actually isn’t an option, though Secure Communities was originally presented as a voluntary program.
ICE tried to modify the program to respond to complaints of targeting non-criminals by clarifying its enforcement priorities and its definitions of the different categories of criminal offenses. At the same time, when they delegate the enforcement of these priorities out to local police forces, they can’t guarantee police will handle people who fall into those different categories differently, so long as they have a mandate to deport as many people as possible.
First and foremost, ICE policy remains such that they may identify, detain, and deport immigrants with no criminal histories. As long as they are not prohibited from taking action against any unauthorized immigrant or any lawful immigrant who is deportable, we will continue to see the deportation of noncriminals and persons with low‐level criminal offenses. When the press reported on a woman who may be deported after calling the police for domestic violence, an ICE spokesperson said, “ICE cannot and will not turn a blind eye to those who violate federal immigration law. While ICE’s enforcement efforts prioritize convicted criminal aliens, ICE maintains the discretion to take action on any alien it encounters.”
New findings from the prisoner advocacy group Justice Strategies back up Walsin’s assessment. Looking at data on immigration detainers issued in New York City [PDF], they found little correlation between the seriousness of the offense committed and the course of action ICE takes.
Walsin concludes that there’s only so much ICE can do to fix these programs with internal memos and training sessions. Immigration law itself also needs to differentiate between different levels of criminal offenses that can lead to detention and deportation—distinguishing someone who runs a red light from a murderer, for instance. And ultimately, the best way to catch criminals among the undocumented population is by creating more avenues for non-criminals to become legalized citizens.
Braden Goyette is a staff writer for Campus Progress.
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