Instead of forcing New York State to be part of the despised Secure Communities program, the Obama administration should heed the concerns of our elected officials and community leaders and suspend this massive deportation plan that separates immigrant families.
Starting tomorrow, by an automatic federal process outside the control of state and local police, law enforcement throughout the state of New York will verify the immigration status of every detainee who gets fingerprinted before being arraigned or found guilty. In the past, only detainees who were under deportation orders were referred to immigration authorities. Now, any immigrant in police custody suspected of a crime that requires fingerprinting, including a misdemeanor, will also be investigated by immigration authorities and could be subject to deportation proceedings.
According to the federal government, the point of all this is to identify dangerous undocumented immigrants and fast-track their deportations. However, this is a deceptively benign description for a program that has been harshly criticized by civil rights advocates and heads of law enforcement agencies, who warn that it can damage community policing efforts and prevent crimes from being reported.
The biggest issue with Secure Communities is the blind, insensitive way it classifies those who are “deportable” without taking into account their contributions to the community or ties to society. Given that it sweeps up “the innocent with the guilty” instead of deporting “the worst of the worst,” the program has put thousands of innocent people-and their families-on the scary path to deportation, including long stays in controversial detention centers. Since its partial implementation in 2008, the program has deported more than 1 million immigrants; almost half of them had no criminal backgrounds. Last year, the government recognized some of these flaws when it agreed to modify parts of the program. The changes announced this month-the most important one was excluding those arrested for traffic violations-have been called inadequate.
Secure Communities, which aims to be implemented in every state by late 2013, is aggressively expanding because it is the administration’s best tool to reach its ambitious deportation goals. This has been a politically ineffective plan that in three-and-a-half years, after record numbers of deportations, has not curried favor with any Republicans. It is also conceptually inconsistent, coming from the team that sued Sheriff Joe Arpaio in Arizona for abusing immigrants and which is now seeking to overturn Arizona’s anti-immigrant SB 1070.
In cities like New York-where there are serious concerns about the excessive use of racial profiling to identify suspects-and in jurisdictions with a history of anti-immigrant hostility, specifically against Latinos, such as Suffolk, Long Island, Secure Communities can provide a pretext for police abuse and set off deportations of immigrants who aren’t “public threats,” but who are parents, siblings, sons and daughters, and other members of the community.
For those engineering Secure Communities, the state of New York -with its more than 4 million immigrants, nearly one million of them undocumented- must represent the goose that lays golden eggs. But the vast majority of immigrants here are hard workers who contribute to our economy and culture. Obama’s team is making a serious mistake, and must take steps to correct it. Secure Communities must be eliminated as a national program, and the decision to activate it in New York reversed immediately.