Reining In ‘Secure Communities’

If DHS fails to rein in the Secure Communities program, the president will be accused by the immigrant community of pursuing the restrictionist goal of mass deportation.

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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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