By Felicia Persaud
News Americas, NEW YORK, NY, Fri. June 24, 2011: The Barack Obama administration has finally gotten the memo on the much criticized and largely undemocratic Secure Communities Program. On June 17, the Department of Homeland Security announced new guidelines in an effort to stop immigration officers from deporting people who were not convicted of a crime; were arrested while reporting a crime, or who were witnesses in a potential criminal investigation or trial.
The guidelines also give prosecutors more discretion on whom to deport.
“We are listening to those concerns and addressing them head on today,” John Morton, director of the U.S. Immigration & Customs Enforcement agency, told reporters in a conference call last week.
Under the new guidelines, he said, immigration officers will be instructed not to deport individuals who are victims of a crime or witnesses in a criminal case. Particular care will be taken to ensure that victims of domestic abuse are not being deported after reporting abuse to police, he said.
The decision is a good one and comes on the heels of criticism in several quarters, especially from Democratic lawmakers in states and congress.
In the last two months, New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo, Massachusetts Gov. Deval Patrick and Illinois Gov. Pat Quinn have all either declined to have their states enter the program or have suspended participation.
They cited concerns that the fingerprint sharing may deter immigrants from cooperating with state and local police for fear of being deported.
And the Los Angeles and Oakland city councils have passed resolutions in support of a California state bill that would apply the program only to illegal immigrants convicted of felonies and make participation optional, among other changes.
So let’s examine what the program’s initial goals were anyway. The Secure Communities program was intended to identify and deport convicted felons. But somehow it wound up also ensnaring minor offenders, victims of domestic abuse and other crimes, as well as witnesses to crimes and people who were arrested but not convicted of offenses.
Just to show how harsh the program was, from its inception in the fall of 2008 through March of this year, 55 percent of those migrants flagged for deportation nationwide had either committed only misdemeanors and infractions or were arrested for crimes but not subsequently convicted.
According to U.S. ICE data, only 30 percent of those flagged for deportation had been the serious violent offenders – including murderers and rapists – that the program sought to prioritize.
Now ICE and the Office for Civil Rights and Civil Liberties have created a new complaint system whereby individuals or organizations who believe civil rights violations connected to Secure Communities have occurred can file a complaint. For example, CRCL will investigate complaints of ethnic discrimination by policing jurisdictions for which Secure Communities has been activated, and DHS will take steps to ensure that bias or other abuses do not affect immigration enforcement.
ICE and CRCL have also created an ongoing quarterly statistical review of the program to examine data for each jurisdiction where Secure Communities is activated to identify effectiveness and any indications of potentially improper use of the program.
The move is a welcome one by the DHS and the administration and definitely sends the right message to the immigrant community and the wider American society – convicted felons will not be tolerated and definitely each and every person in this country is truly innocent until proven guilty.
The writer is founder of NewsAmericasNow, CaribPR Wire and Hard Beat Communications.