CCR Report: S-Comm Harms Law Enforcement

The Center for Constitutional Rights, a foe of the Obama administration's "Secure Communities" Program, has released a report arguing that the program should be ended. The expected objections to the program "excessively punish[ing] marginal populations" are contained in the report, but it also includes testimony from law enforcement officials like former Manhattan District Attorney Robert Morgenthau and former Los Angeles Police Chief David Bratton.

The law enforcement argument against Secure Communities goes something like this: Because the program is automatic, undocumented immigrants are discouraged from talking to police because of the possibility that they might end up getting deported. "When
immigrants perceive the local police force as merely an arm of the federalimmigration authority," Morgenthau writes, "they become reluctant to report criminal activity for fear of being turned over to federal officials."

The way Secure Communites works is that jurisdictions covered by the program forward the biometric information of anyone arrested by local law enforcement to Immigration and Customs Enforcement in order to determine whether they're in the country legally. What that means is the program retains a number of the problems caused by Arizona's draconian SB-1070 law: It incentivizes racial profiling and as the report documents, discourages undocumented immigrants from talking to police. Several immigrant-friendly states have tried to opt-out of the program, but DHS reversed itself months ago and said that the program wasn't optional. 

Then a few weeks ago Friday, as Julianne Hing explains, they announced that the original memorandum of understanding given to states that implied they could opt out was no longer in force. The memorandums stated, "This MOA will remain in effect from the date of signing until it is terminated by either party." The feds explained they were just kidding.

"ICE has determined that an MOU is not required to activate or operate Secure Communities for any jurisdiction," ICE director John Morton wrote in his letter to states' governors.

"Once a state or local law enforcement agency voluntarily submits fingerprint data to the federal government, no agreement with the state is legally necessary for one part of the federal government to share it with another part."

Basically, because local jurisdictions forward identifying information to the FBI, the government is saying they don't need permission from the states to keep implementing the program, since the FBI can share the information with ICE. Since the program is administrative and not created by law, they can pretty much change the rules of how the program is run anytime they want. 

The program is ostensibly meant to help DHS focus on its goal of targeting undocumented immigrants who are a threat to public safety, but only about 14 percent of the matches involve people convicted of high level offenses like murder. The vast majority are level 2 or 3 offenders, with 2 comprising those who have committed property crimes and 3 including people guilty of misdemeanors. At least a quarter, according to Renée Feltz and Stokely Baksh, haven't been previously convicted of a crime. All of this is of course happening in a political context in which the Obama administration is deporting undocumented immigrants in record numbers while Republicans pretend that there's some sort of imminent, covert administrative mass amnesty plan. 

There could be political implications however, for the administration's aggressive immigration enforcement in the absence of any progress on comprehensive immigration reform. As David Dayen reports, hundreds protested an S-comm meeting in Los Angeles yesterday. While obviously undocumented immigrants can't vote, the immigration reform movement is the best organized political force in the Latino community, and their social and familial ties to people affected by U.S. immigration policy may have consequences for 2012 when Obama attempts to mobilize the Hispanic vote in his favor despite having little progress to show on immigration reform. 

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