We are anticipating that the House of Representatives Subcommittee on Immigration Policy and Enforcement will hold a hearing on Nov. 30 about Secure Communities. This Congressional hearing will be led by the Republicans, who are generally supportive of the Secure Communities program.
The Democrats on the committee, on the other hand, are generally more supportive of reforming the program. While their party’s top official continues to roll out S-Comm nationally and has deported an unprecedented number of undocumented Americans, a number of Congressional democrats have come out against the program, calling on the Commander-In-Chief to terminate the program (opens a pdf).
In preparation for the upcoming hearing, we have written the following letter calling for congressional action on S-Comm and ICE enforcement programs. While Congress cannot directly terminate S-Comm, it does have the power to direct funding away from the program that criminalizes workers and toward apprehending and prosecuting the real criminals: drug and gun traffickers and human smugglers.
An excerpt from the letter follows. Read the letter in its entirety here (opens a word document).
Immigration is a federal policy issue that can no longer wait to be addressed. Any attempts at the local or state level are only piecemeal approaches that will fail to provide comprehensive solutions. We cannot be misled by extreme xenophobic rhetoric pushing more and more enforcement policies, In fact, these radical enforcement policies are exacerbating the problem, funneling more and more individuals into a broken immigration system that separates families, criminalizes workers, divides communities, and profits off of taxpayer money through the jailing of immigrants in private, for-profit detention centers.
Our America is greater. Our values are about embracing innovation and diversity, and recognizing the contributions of every sector of our society. President Obama, however, has not lived up to these true American values. Under his administration, over one million immigrants have been imprisoned. According to numbers recently updated by Immigration and Customs Enforcement, Obama deported 982,548 immigrants from January 2009 to July 2011. It is likely that the total has surpassed one million by now. The majority of immigrants removed continue to be non-criminals.
There has been a higher rate of deportations under President Obama than at any time in American history. Obama’s record number of deportations means that a record number of families have been separated. A record number of sisters, brothers, fathers, and mothers have been pushed into the dark maze that is the immigrant detention system, where private companies make record profits from tax dollars, treating immigrants as criminals.
This is because of federal ICE ACCESS Programs like the Secure Communities Initiative (S-Comm) that place federal immigration enforcement responsibilities in the hands of local and state law enforcement. S-Comm is an initiative of the Department of Homeland Security that allows Immigration and Customs Enforcement to run the immigration status of every individual that is arrested by local law enforcement—whether or not they are charged with or convicted of a crime—and transfer into ICE custody those who are found to be in the country illegally.
Collaboration between federal immigration officials and local law enforcement drives a wedge between local law enforcement and immigrant and Latino communities. The duty of law enforcement to serve and protect becomes the duty to serve those who look like they are in the country legally at the expense of those who don’t. Undocumented immigrants, as tax payers and members of the community, deserve and depend on the protection of local law enforcement. Yet when local officials participate in ICE ACCESS programs, immigrant communities lose their right to be protected, instead becoming targets of local law enforcement.
What’s worse, under the S-Comm program, even the intentions of local police officials to mend the broken relationship between immigrant communities and law enforcement and reinstate community policing are undermined. The program operates electronically and automatically when finger prints are sent for criminal background checks—with or without the consent of local law enforcement officials.
While the recently commissioned Task Force on Secure Communities, responding to the increasing public outcry against the program, did offer recommendations on changes to the program, those changes do not go far enough to maintain the security of the community. As retired Police Chief Arturo Venegas wrote in his resignation letter from the task force,
If the scheme recommended by the task force is implemented, individuals simply arrested for minor violations, including traffic violations, will still be put through the system. The federal government will decide whether they are candidates for deportation, based on enforcement priorities that include people whose only “crime” is a prior civil immigration violation. I believe that many people with minor infractions, such as driving without a license, will still be put into deportation proceedings based on the scheme recommended by the task force. Immigrants will continue to fear that contact with the police could lead to deportation, crimes will go unreported, and criminals will remain free to prey on others. Civil immigration enforcement will continue to trump crime control in our communities.
What’s more, immigrants charged with more serious offenses, but never convicted, have no protection in the task force report. It seems we are agreeing to turn the long-standing principle of ‘innocent until proven guilty’ on its head for certain groups of people. If you are an immigrant, and you are charged with a more serious offense, you are ‘guilty until proven innocent’ and you will be referred for deportation. As an immigrant myself, and as an American, I cannot support that differing standard.
As Mr. Venegas observes, the program, and indeed many ICE ACCESS programs like it, denies due process to undocumented immigrants. The US Constitution guarantees due process to all people on our soil, yet if they are immigrants, they are deported before having the opportunity to be proven innocent or guilty of the crimes they are charged with.