In another blow to the Obama administration’s attempt to gain nationwide acceptance for the immigration program Secure Communities, the state of New York pulled out of the program today. Governor Andrew Cuomo explained his reasoning in a press release: “‘There are concerns about the implementation of the program as well as its impact on families, immigrant communities and law enforcement in New York,’ Governor Cuomo said. ‘As a result, New York is suspending its participation in the program.’”
Similarly, Illinois terminated its participation in the program in May, and San Francisco Sheriff Michael Hennessey announced last month that he’ll review immigrants pegged by the program to make sure they’re actually serious criminals. Additionally, the California Assembly passed the TRUST Act last week, which, if it clears the Senate and the governor, will allow counties to opt out of participation in Secure Communities.
New York, Illinois, cities and counties in California, and other localities around the nation have been suspicious of the program, which automatically shares fingerprints of anyone booked in jail with immigration authorities. Those local authorities, along with immigrant rights groups, have claimed that the program ends up acting as a dragnet for all undocumented immigrants–not just the serious criminals it claims to be focused on.
Other officials, however, have responded well to Secure Communities. Sheriff Lee Baca of Los Angeles County recently wrote an op-ed in the Los Angeles Times defending the program:
Consider the following case: In January, a local police agency arrested a man for driving with a suspended license. A subsequent fingerprint screening revealed that he was also a convicted felon illegally in the United States from Mexico. His record included three prior drug trafficking convictions and six deportations in 11 years.
Secure Communities identified the man immediately as deportable, Baca wrote. “The program enables law enforcement agencies to identify criminals who are here illegally and allows the federal government to target those who have committed serious crimes for deportation so they no longer pose a threat to our communities.”
The other undertone of the debate over Secure Communities is money. Opponents of the program point out that Secure Communities requires local jails to hold immigrants on behalf of the federal government, for ostensibly breaking a federal civil code, without proper compensation. Those who support the program argue that jail space is actually freed up when the federal government successfully deports criminal offenders. A nascent hysteria over the costs of housing undocumented in local jails and prisons recently made itself known in the form of a widely circulated article first printed at Bakersfield Now. The piece’s title sums up the premise: “You pay nearly $1B a year to house illegal immigrant prisoners.”
The data used is a bit fuzzy–it’s not clear that every immigrant identified as being in a California prison under this rubric is actually undocumented. The numbers could include legal immigrants who’ve lost their status by committing crimes, or those vaguely “suspected” of being eligible for deportation by ICE or CDCR. But the essential message is not dependent on the exact dollar figure: in a time of strapped local, state, and national budgets, there’s going to be more and more wrangling over who’s responsible for what when it comes to the pricey tasks of catching and detaining people.