Mercury News: Homeland Security toughens stance on Draconian ‘Secure Communities’

A Washington Post Columnist opines on Homeland Security’s recent announcement that they are rescinding the MOU’s with jurisdictions — essentially saying they never needed them, and that they can force the controversial program on states and counties despite local jurisdictions saying they want to opt out. While the move impacts some immigrants advocates’ strategies, better believe civil rights groups are not giving up on ending the program.

By Esther J. Cepeda
CHICAGO — Draconian. Rogue. Dangerous. Flawed.

These are just some of the words used to describe the Department of Homeland Security’s Secure Communities program, which, if it hasn’t already, will soon be coming to a community near you.

In a stunning defeat for immigration rights advocates who were celebrating in June after several states, including Barack Obama’s home state of Illinois, declared they’d no longer be participating, Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) announced last week that it was terminating all existing memorandums of agreement with individual jurisdictions — to send the clear message that the program is not voluntary and cannot be declined.

Many law enforcement agencies are not happy. They have been caught in the crosswinds of political whimsy — from being urged to turn a blind eye to the community impacts of illegal immigration, to fielding demands that police say drive a wedge into their community relations and cost unreimbursed money as well.

In 2007, agencies were initially told by ICE to sign up voluntarily and opt out if need be. Then ICE changed its mind while pursuing the goal of signing up all law enforcement agencies in every state by 2013.

But the program, which identifies illegal immigrants based on fingerprints that local law enforcement officials check against Department of Justice, FBI and Department of Homeland Security records, is hated by some immigrants and activists because of its stunning record in helping deport illegal immigrants without serious criminal convictions. Advocates for illegal immigrants say that even though the program was initially designed to deport only the most violent or threatening criminal offenders, victims of crime and immigrants who had committed “minor crimes” are also being sent home.

But aside from these immigrant activists, few others raise a stink about Secure Communities and here’s why: Residents of any given community, no matter how liberal or open to inflows of immigration they are, want those who commit any kind of crime gone.

People in this country love and celebrate the mythology of immigrants forging the America we love today — until they’re on their way home from work, and an illegal immigrant driver with no license and no insurance plows into their car and then drives off. Not that legal status is the linchpin. The protective instinct to shun the delinquent goes for any crime, major or minor — ask anyone, and they’ll tell you they don’t want U.S.-born lawbreakers anywhere near them, either.

Statistics showing that “only” about 40 percent of those swept up by Secure Communities had previously committed major violent offenses have little traction. You want resonance? Start talking about how much this mandated program costs struggling law enforcement agencies and their communities.

There’s no question the program has serious flaws. It was, at the start, administered heavy-handedly to both state and local law enforcement’s existing responsibilities — not a great way to start a partnership. And with a goal of catching the worst of the worst with limited budgets and manpower, there is no excuse for putting victims of crime with no prior criminal record through the ringer.

Secure Communities appears here to stay. People who care about keeping crime down would be smart to pay attention to its progress in their own communities.

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