A coalition of immigrant-rights groups is publicizing data obtained after a Freedom of Information Act lawsuit against U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) that shows a new program that aims to identify dangerous criminals who are here illegally is having major side effects, intended or not.
The "Secure Communities" program is being implemented by federal mandate in counties across the U.S. Here's how it works: when a suspect is booked at a county facility, the routine fingerprint scan is sent to a federal database of known legal immigrants. If a match is not found, the suspect is
forwarded to an immigration hearing and, if he's here illegally, eventual deportation.
ICE representatives say the program is designed to target the most dangerous and violent "criminal aliens." But data from Florida shows that we're near the top nationally in non-criminals who are deported through the program.
Broward County implemented Secure Communities in August 2009, relatively early. Since then it has resulted in nearly 500 "removals" of undocumented immigrants from the county... and 57 percent of those were non-criminals. Seventy-six percent were either non-criminal or "level three" offenders who had committed the least serious, nonviolent crimes.
In a press release publicizing the data, Sarahi Uribe of the National Day Laborer Organizing Network said, "The most recent numbers demonstrate that Secure Communities makes us less safe. The Obama administration pushed an aggressive deportation dragnet onto counties with no oversight and no protections for the innocent people who would be affected."
This subject has inspired a lot of debate because there's no clear violation of law taking place: after all, the people who are "removed" are usually in the country without documents, and subject to deportation. But activists say that, for example, a victim of domestic violence who ends up in jail might be thrown out of the country; knowledge of this risk might lead her to avoid reporting crimes in the first place.
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ICE Director John Morton makes no bones about the program's effect on non-criminals. "We do in fact remove non-criminals through Secure Communities," he told a congressional committee at a hearing this month.
New Times has an open request for records on 21 alleged criminals arrested in Broward and Palm Beach Counties during a December raid.