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STATEMENT: CAP’s Marshall Fitz on DHS Secure Communities Announcement

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Contact: Madeline Meth
Phone: 202.741.6277
Email: mmeth@americanprogress.org

The following is a statement from Marshall Fitz, Director of Immigration Policy at the Center for American Progress, about changes to the Securire Communities program announced today by the US Immigration and Customs Enforcement agency:

Today’s announcement about changes to DHS’s Secure Communities program is a significant acknowledgment by the agency that the program’s operation has serious shortcomings. While many welcome changes were announced—including new training protocols, a transparency initiative, and a strong reaffirmation of prosecutorial discretion—some of the most important decisions were delayed pending review by an advisory committee.

Secure Communities is a program designed to identify deportable immigrants who are booked by state and local police for criminal violations. The stated rationale behind the program makes good sense: help DHS prioritize the removal of individuals who have committed serious crimes. All law enforcement agencies must prioritize and we have applauded the Obama administration’s efforts to emphasize criminal removals. But the enforcement mechanism they have adopted—Secure Communities—has failed to train a clear focus on serious criminals. In fact, we know that in some jurisdictions a majority of individuals identified through the program have only been charged with traffic-related offenses.

The facts on the ground thus raise the ugly specter of pretextual arrests, where individuals who look “foreign” are pulled over for phantom traffic violations, charged, and run through the Secure Communities database. This conduct infects community attitudes toward the police and undermines collaboration and trust that is critical to effective policing. When police are picking up breadwinners on their way to work instead of identifying dangerous criminals, community policing initiatives suffer. When immigrants and their friends or families are scared to report crimes and cooperate with police, the community becomes less, not more safe.

The seriousness of these concerns has been reflected in the decision by a number of states and local jurisdictions to “opt-out” of the program. These states have no desire to interfere with legitimate immigration enforcement efforts. But their principal obligation is to ensure the safety and security of their communities. And when their state and local police are viewed as immigration agents rather than safety officers, their policing responsibilities become exponentially harder.

It is imperative that immigration enforcement initiatives by DHS that involve collaboration with state and local police truly focus on removing serious criminals. When programs like Secure Communities become a tool for some state and local police to engage in racial profiling, the safety of our communities suffers.

The changes to the program announced today recognize these concerns, but they are incomplete in addressing them. We believe that the only way to diminish pretextual arrests is to prevent individuals charged with traffic violations and low-level crimes from being flagged by the Secure Communities program until after conviction. We hope that the advisory committee announced today and tasked with tackling these important issues reaches the same conclusion.

To speak to CAP experts about this issue, please contact Raul Arce-Contreras at rarcecontreras@americanprogress.org or 202.478.5318.

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