Tuesday, March 2, 2010

DHS Immigrant Dragnet Yields Sorry Results

Feb 25th, 2010
Posted by Ankit Rastogi, Immigrants' Rights Project at 4:26pm

A Washington Post article on Monday reports that Secure Communities, an Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) jail screening program, has gotten “high marks” in anti-immigration quarters. Under the Secure Communities program, jails run all arrestees’ fingerprints through not only criminal databases, but also immigration databases. This screening happens even if the local prosecutor decides there’s no basis for a criminal charge. Based on the results of the database search, ICE may decide to detain the person upon release by the local agency.

Originally, Secure Communities was designed to apprehend individuals who have been convicted of major drug offenses and violent offenses, but the results have shown quite the opposite result: a report from the Immigration Policy Center stated that from October 2008 to February 2009, only 7.2 percent of criminal aliens identified by the program were convicted of these major offenses. A September 2009 report by the Warren Institute on Race, Ethnicity, and Diversity examined a similar jail screening program by ICE called the Criminal Alien Program (CAP) as it was carried out in Irving, Texas. Over a 15-month period, only 2 percent of the detainers ICE issued through CAP were for individuals with felony offenses. Clearly, DHS maintains a poor track record in prioritizing the removal of “dangerous criminal aliens.”

Advocates for Secure Communities claim that it won’t lead to racial profiling because every arrestee’s fingerprints are run through the database when they are booked into the jail. But the Warren Institute report discovered that when the local police knew that jail screening would take place, they dramatically increased their arrests of Latinos, particularly for minor misdemeanor charges. Jail screenings have clearly led to racial profiling as local officers target “foreign-looking” motorists for traffic stops. Officers know that whether ICE takes the person into custody or the person turns out to be a U.S. citizen or lawful immigrant, if they can just sweep as many individuals as possible into the local jail, criminal charges can later be dropped and the officer will never be held to account for the unlawful stops.

Quite contrary to the program’s name, Secure Communities has the potential to greatly reduce public safety. As leaders in law enforcement like Los Angeles police chief William Bratton have pointed out, when local police focus on immigration enforcement, they are diverted from pursuing violent crimes and lose community trust. As a result, crimes go unreported and witnesses won’t come forward. As the article mentions, Secure Communities has a “lower profile” — so low-profile that some law enforcement agencies may be unaware that ICE intends to take the program to every county jail in the country by 2013. For those police chiefs and sheriffs who have prioritized catching serious criminals rather than immigration violators, this may be unwelcome news.

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