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Secure Communities? Some Changes in ICE Policies, But What is Needed is Comprehensive Immigration Reform

In response to widespread criticism across the country of the Secure Communities program of ICE (U. S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement) on June 17, 2011 ICE Director John Morton issued a memorandum announ-cing some changes in the way the program is administered.

Not only human rights groups, and the U. S. Catholic Bishops, but local law enforcement in many states have criticized the Secure Communties program as well as the 287(g) program as being ineffective in their goals of targeting criminals as well as being abusive to many immigrants.

Comprehensive Immigration Reform is what is really needed to address the situation of the 11 million undocumented people in the United States.

Recent years have seen more deportations than ever before, causing untold suffering to individuals and families. In the absence of immigration reform and the emphasis on enforcement only, the Department of Homeland Security has prioritized contracts with state and local law enforcement targeting immigrants who come into contact with the criminal justice system.

Secure Communities, which was supposed to capture hardened criminals through sharing of biometrics (fingerprints), has facilitated the deportations of battered women, crime victims and witnesses, students who came as young children and have lived in the U. S. for many years, and many diligent workers in our economy who may have had a minor problem like a broken tail light. Being in the United States without papers is a civil offense, not a criminal one, and the large number of deportations of people without criminal records does not reflect the meaning of what either 287g or the Secure Communities program was supposed to be.

The new memorandum instructs ICE officials and attorneys to exercise discretion in whom they prosecute, expanding the factors immigration authorities can take into account in deciding to defer or cancel deportations. Press reports indicate that they are now permitted to consider how long an immigrant has been in the United States, whether the person was brought here as a child and would be eligible for legal status under the bill stalled in Congress known as the Dream Act, as well as veterans and active-duty members of the U. S. military and their relatives.

The quick response in the community to these changes has been that they are minor and do not address the deeper, serious problems and abuses in the enforcement program.

In recent weeks several states, including Illinois, New York, and Massachusetts have announced that they are pulling out of the Secure Communities program because of its glaring flaws, including the loss of trust between local law enforcement and the immigrant communities. The Homeland Security Department has declared that participation is mandatory (even though Secure Communities was not established by Congressional legislation, but by administrative decree).

The U. S. Conference of Catholic Bishops has outlined the human rights abuses inherent in these programs and recommended that without immediate significant changes to correct abuses the 287g program should be phased out, and the Secure Communities program should be frozen until meaningful changes in the program are made.

For more details on the analysis and recommendations of the Catholic Bishops published in May of 2011, go to their Justice for Immigrants web site:http://www.justiceforimmigrants.org/index.shtml
Houston Catholic Worker, Vol. XXXI, No. 3, June-August, 2011.