Government Revises Secure Communities Deportation Guidelines
The Obama administration announced that guidelines for the Secure Communities fingerprint sharing program will be modified to focus more on illegal immigrants with serious criminal records rather than minor offenders and others.
The Secure Communities program was developed to identify and deport convicted felons, but while enforcing the program individuals beyond its scope got caught up in it. In fact, ICE data shows that only 30% of immigrants flagged for deportation through the program were serious violent offenders such as murderers and rapists. The majority flagged for deportation included individuals who:
- committed misdemeanors or minor infractions
- were arrested for crimes but not subsequently convicted
- were victims of a crime or domestic abuse
- were witnesses in criminal cases
The aspect of the program at issue is automatic notification of U.S. immigration officials when local law enforcement requests a routine criminal background check through the FBI fingerprint database. Once a background check is run, the FBI shares the information with U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE), at which time immigration officers have gone to local jails to begin deportation proceedings.
In recent months, however, the White House has been criticized by Democratic governors, Democrats in Congress and local officials who say fingerprint sharing may discourage immigrants from cooperating with police for fear of deportation.
New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo, Massachusetts Gov. Deval Patrick, and Illinois Gov. Pat Quinn have gone so far as to either reject state participation in the program or suspend the program altogether. In California, Los Angeles and Oakland city councils passed resolutions that include applying the program only to illegal immigrants convicted of felonies.
The new guidelines issued by the U.S. Department of Homeland Security (DHS) instruct immigration officers not to deport individuals outside the scope of the program, and to ensure that victims of domestic abuse are particularly not being deported after reporting abuse. This comes after the Los Angeles Times reported the case of a woman jailed by immigration authorities in San Francisco after reporting domestic abuse by her partner.
ICE Director John Morton told reporters last week that the department is “listening to those concerns and addressing them head on.” As part of the changes announced, ICE also has given new powers to immigration enforcement agents and prosecutors to make deporting violent criminals a top priority, and asking them to consider how a removal may impact a family in the U.S.
Fingerprint-checking is credited with helping immigration officials effectively find and deport an increased number of illegal immigrants with criminal records or immigration violations. In fact, the program increased criminal deportations by 70% over two years, from 114,415 individuals in 2008, to 195,722 individuals in 2010.
Critics of the program, however, remain skeptical that any changes to the guidelines will help. They argue that the program still makes local arrest a first point of contact for immigration enforcement, which will jeopardize trust in local police.