Secure Communities began in 2008, and has since rolled out to 1,300 local jurisdictions nationwide, with plans to be operating in every local community by 2013. The program sends fingerprints of those arrested by local police to a Homeland Security database, where they’re matched against immigration records. If the database recognizes the fingerprints as belonging to a person who may be in the country illegally, ICE has the option to place a hold on that person in the county jail, preventing their release. Then ICE has 48 hours to pick that person up from local custody and transfer them into the deportation system.
The program has been touted as a way of finding and quickly deporting dangerous criminals–and keeping with a new immigration strategy aimed at leaving most undocumented immigrants alone and focusing on those committing crimes.
“These priorities,” the ICE’s website says, “have led to significant results. In fiscal years 2009 and 2010, ICE removed more convicted criminal aliens from our country than ever before, with the number of convicted criminals that ICE removed from the United States increasing by 71 percent, while the number of non-criminals removed dropped by 23 percent.”
However, the Task Force points out, “the impact of Secure Communities has not been limited to convicted criminals, dangerous and violent offenders, or threats to public safety and national security.” Including domestic violence victims, traffic violators, and lower level arrestees in the program “is having the unintended consequence of undercutting the credibility of the entire Secure Communities program.” Moreover, the Task Force writes that because Secure Communities links arrests by police to deportation–in communities where the distinction between federal and local officers is already blurry–and thereby disturbs police departments’ relationships with their communities.
Ultimately, the Task Force–which was split on whether or not the program should be scrapped altogether or at least suspended pending changes–identified a number of alterations to the program, including greater transparency, targeting only serious criminals, and more attention to complaints about the program. The report also questions ICE’s authority to make the program mandatory for states and counties.
Will ICE comply? The trade journal Security Info Watch writes that it “would be painfully obvious if the agency ignored its own task force, and that would only compound its public relations problem.” If setting up a task force was “a bureaucratic move to quiet opposition, rather than accomplish anything real,” then “the effort backfired.”