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Idea of the Day: Reining In ‘Secure Communities’

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"A Better Life," a new film out this month focusing on a day laborer’s struggle to support his family, deals with the harsh impact on hard-working families of one of the Department of Homeland Security’s most highly touted immigration enforcement programs, “Secure Communities.”

The logistical challenges related to everyday life have always been significant for undocumented immigrants, but the aggressive expansion of Secure Communities to jurisdictions across the country has raised the stakes. This is because individuals arrested for misdemeanor traffic offenses like driving without a license are no longer just fined and processed through the local court system. Instead, their fingerprints are run through DHS’s database to determine their immigration status. If it turns out that the individual is unauthorized, DHS automatically initiates deportation proceedings against them.

In other words, being stopped for driving without a license in a Secure Communities jurisdiction will lead, almost inexorably, to the initiation of removal proceedings. The Obama administration has deported in the neighborhood of 1 million people, a staggering figure. And Secure Communities—which the administration is attempting to deploy to every jurisdiction by 2013—is one of the accelerants in this supercharged enforcement effort.

As the number of broken lives and families climbs, the moral authority behind this enforcement effort wanes. And, ironically, by eroding the confidence of the community being served, it subverts the ostensible goal of the program: increased community safety. Turning every traffic cop into an immigration agent is a surefire way to undermine community-based policing initiatives. This is precisely why several states attempted to opt-out of participating in the program and why DHS’s recent refusal to authorize the opt-out is misguided.

The truth is that the majority of people identified through the program, like the father in "A Better Life," have committed at most a traffic offense. In the face of this disconnect, if DHS fails to rein in the program, the president will be accused by the immigrant community of pursuing the restrictionist goal of mass deportation. And the community won’t be wrong.

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To speak with our experts on this topic, please contact:

Print: Katie Peters (economy, education, poverty, Half in Ten Education Fund)
202.741.6285 or kpeters@americanprogress.org

Print: Anne Shoup (foreign policy and national security, energy, LGBT issues, health care, gun-violence prevention)
202.481.7146 or ashoup@americanprogress.org

Print: Crystal Patterson (immigration)
202.478.6350 or cpatterson@americanprogress.org

Print: Madeline Meth (women's issues, Legal Progress, higher education)
202.741.6277 or mmeth@americanprogress.org

Spanish-language and ethnic media: Tanya Arditi
202.741.6258 or tarditi@americanprogress.org

TV: Lindsay Hamilton
202.483.2675 or lhamilton@americanprogress.org

Radio: Chelsea Kiene
202.478.5328 or ckiene@americanprogress.org

 

This is part of a regular column: Idea of the Day

For more from the same column, click here