Do deportations create “secure communities”?

The Obama administration is now deporting more immigrants than in the last years under Bush. That’s paradoxical, in that Homeland Security has reduced factory raids and claims to be giving low priority to those whose offense is only being in this country for crossing borders without authorization.

Immigration and Custom Enforcement (ICE) attributes the stepped-up rate of deportation to the success of its Secure Communities program, which is meant to exclude harden criminals. Many immigration advocates beg to differ. It’s not just the hardened criminal that are being deported, but some for offenses such as driving under the influence or domestic abuse. Not admirable conduct, but hardly drug-smuggling or gang banging. (For examples, see the Washington Post.)

Secure Communities was introduced in last days of the Bush presidency. It’s a simple idea. Since county and local jails take finger prints, why not submit them to Homeland Security to check the status of the detainee? If it kicks back that he/she is undocumented and if the offense is serious, then she/he could be turned over to ICE for deportation. In exchange, Homeland Security will share information that would be helpful in fighting crime. Many local jurisdictions (175 in 36 states) have signed up for the program, and Homeland Security secretary Janet Nepolitano expects the program to go national by 2013.

But the program doesn’t work as it is touted by ICE. Many local police officials and leaders agree with immigrant advocates that too high a proportion of those caught up in the jail house screening are for minor offenses, so they choose to opt out of the program, concerned that it might make local law enforcement more difficult as the Hispanic community ceases to cooperate with the police.

The New York Times recently reports that there is confusion about how free local jurisdictions are in opting out of Secure Communities and whether it will become compulsory. State governors begin by signing on to the program. It was believed that local jurisdictions then would decide to participate or not. But now officials at Homeland Security argue that once a state joins the program, local jurisdictions cannot opt out. The program becomes compulsory and in 2013 all local jurisdictions throughout the country would have to participate.

For immigration activists and Hispanic leaders this is one more disappointment from the Obama administration on immigration. The program catches up many immigrants who have been here for years, have been generally law-abiding, but got caught for a minor offense. No one is objecting to sending harden criminals back. But fingerprints of minor offenders are routinely sent to Homeland Security and the process of deportation soon follows.