Wednesday, September 8, 2010

Secure Communities Program

The Department of Homeland Security's (DHS) Secure Communities Program is yet another immigration issue stirring up controversy and new coverage in recent weeks.

The program was started under the Bush administration and has been rapidly expanded under the Obama Administration with the goal of modernizing the criminal alien enforcement process by identifying criminal aliens with enhanced biometric technology used by local law enforcement.  In plain language, the program takes fingerprints gathered by local law enforcement during the booking process and checks them against FBI criminal history records and DHS's immigration records.  Where matches are found, Immigration and Customs Enfocement (ICE) is notified and determines whether further action is necessary.  DHS claims the program will increase the agency's ability to efficiently and accurately identify high priority criminal aliens for removal.

The program is being rolled out in phases, with new localities being added frequently.  Currently, 100% of Virginia's local jurisdictions have implemented the Secure Communities Program.  DHS plans to have the program fully implemented nationwide by 2013.  Unlike the 287(g) powers recently requested by Governor McDonnell,  the Secure Communities program does not give local law enforcement any immigration enforcement powers.

As might be expected, not everyone is a fan of the Secure Communities program.  Some argue that it has the potential for misuse by local police, who may be more likely to find a pretext to arrest those they suspect of being undocumented in hopes that a fingerprint scan will result in ICE instituting removal action.  Others argue that immigrant communities may become hesitant to seek aid from or cooperate with local law enforcement due to their involvement with ICE, leading to communities that are actually less secure.

As a result of these concerns, some localities have attempted to opt out of the Secure Communities Program. While ICE appears to concede that the program is voluntary, it appears that no one, including ICE, knows exactly how a locality may opt out.

Find out more about the program and the opposition below:

ICE Secure Communities Fact Sheet
National Immigration Forum Fact Sheet
ICE's "Setting the Record Straight" Memo Responding to Opposition
Opt Out Controversy Article

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