By Alan Bean
If you’re wondering what this “secure communities” business is all about, you probably aren’t Latino. If so, you have nothing to worry about. Forget about it. This doesn’t apply to you. Unless you believe in equal justice. In that case, read on.
Secure Communities began as a pilot program in late 2007. The idea was to hold criminal suspects in detention until their fingerprints could be checked against FBI and DHS records. In case of a match, ICE (U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement) puts a detainer on the individual until immigration status can be verified and a preliminary decision made about deportation.
In theory, only serious criminals are selected for deportation, but the rules governing the Secure Communities program are vague and susceptible to multiple interpretations. Public officials who want to use Secure Communities as a cover for racial profiling and the harassment of heavily Latino neighborhoods are free to do so.
Secure Communities was voluntary at first, but the Obama administration, eager to dodge the impression that it is soft on illegal immigration, has become increasingly enamored of the program. Safe Communities is now mandatory and universal compliance will be demanded by 2013.
US immigration policy lurched in a conservative direction in 1981 when Ronald Reagan took a strong stand against Haitian asylum seekers. But the real change came in the wake of the Oklahoma City bombing and the first attack on the World Trade Center in 1996. The implementation of the Antiterrorism and Effective Death Penalty Act (AEDPA) and the Illegal Immigration Reform and Immigrant Responsibility Act (IIRAIRA) made deportation much easier while shifting decision-making authority from the judiciary to petty government officials. The post 9-11 creation of ICE as a component of Homeland Security set the stage for Secure Communities. The United States now deports seven times as many people as we did in 1994, just prior to AEDPA and IIRAIRA.
Although half of the roughly 400,000 people deported annually in recent years have criminal records, many are guilty of nothing more than driving without a driver’s license (an understandable violation if you are documented).
How safe has Safe Communities made America? Deporting bad actors will always be a popular idea, but when entire communities are transformed into virtual police states, community trust is seriously eroded. Nobody wants to talk to the police, even the victims of violent crime or potential eyewitnesses.
Secure Communities policies were softened slightly earlier this year, but critics were uniformly unimpressed with the miniscule changes.
As this story suggests, the erosion of community trust is emerging as the major reason people across the nation are fighting mad about Secure Communities.
WASHINGTON — District of Columbia council members said they plan to act swiftly on Tuesday to defy a federal immigration enforcement program the city will be forced to join the same day. (more…)