The Secure Communities program has been around for three years now. The federal program that seeks to protect citizens against illegal immigrants with criminal backgrounds has remained a controversial issue. States, such as California, New York and Illinois have been trying to come up with new solutions to the federal program, as many oppose a program that would alienate and discriminate against minorities. While New York would much rather not follow through with many of the policies, the federal government keeps pushing for Secure Communities. And now, California has somewhat lessened the blow to minorities, creating an Act that would only deport those who are serious felons. But the lines of distinction between who stays and who goes are still rather blurry.
According to the ACLU, Secure Communities directly links local police to federal immigration authorities. After a suspect is detained, fingerprints are taken and then sent directly through the F.B.I. to be further checked by the Department of Homeland Security for immigration status.
The federal government’s goal with this program is to target felons for deportation, but the reality is that police can target any person that is questionable for deportation. While U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) states that this program is simply for the protection of U.S. citizens, the ACLU argues that these policies create an environment for racial profiling, while creating fear in the community.
Since Secure Communities was enacted in 2009, 75,000 people were deported in California alone. The L.A. Times reports that half of those people deported had either no criminal history or had misdemeanor convictions. Due to the deportations, as well as an expansion of the program to several other states, immigration rights activists as well as politicians have spoken out about the potential harm of the program.
In Connecticut, Rafael Pichardo Immigration Rights Activist said, “The social cost of the well being to our communities is too big to ignore. We the Coalition for Immigrant Rights in Connecticut, say no longer will we allow you to use our taxpayer money to deport immigrants.” Many others spoke out at the legislative office building in Connecticut to make their voices heard.
Controversy and uproar has happened in several states, causing politicians to ask for revisions and exceptions to the program. According to the New York Times, some steps have been made to improve the program in several states. Now, police go through civil rights training, and they are only allowed to hold illegal immigrants for 48 hours. ICE also hopes to decrease the amount of illegal immigrants that have been detained due to speeding or driving without a license. However, some states are still looking for better alternatives to the program.
In California, Assembly member Tom Ammiano fought to draft a bill, which recently passed. The Trust Act will work to only detain the worst offenders. According to the L.A. Times, the bill will go to Jerry Brown next month. New York and Illinois already have similar restrictions to the program.
However, opponents have compared the Trust Act to Arizona’s SB 1070, their own immigration law. The National Conference of State Legislature states, “On July 28, Judge Bolton granted the request for injunction in part and enjoined those provisions related to state law officers determining immigration status during any lawful stop; the requirement to carry alien registration documents; the prohibition on applying for work if unauthorized; and permission for warrantless arrests if there is probable cause the offense would make the person is removable from the United States.” The injunction was appealed by Governor Jan Brewer, but was later upheld by the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals.
But the Trust Act seems to have lessened the blow to illegal immigrants, regardless of the opposition. Under the Act, police would be required to release those who have posted bail, those who do not face serious charges and those who have not had serious convictions.
Opposition to the program still remains strong however, especially with some of the victims speaking out. The ACLU has taken a strong stance against Secure Communities, stating that the program still invites racial profiling and discourages people from calling the police. While people should be looking to the police for help, immigrants may be more concerned about their status than their protection.
While provisions are being made to ensure those who are being detained for lesser offenses are not deported, problems in other states have arisen. The New York Times reported that in Massachusetts an illegal immigrant was arrested for killing a motorcyclist while driving drunk. Governor Patrick blocked the program. Quickly afterwards his actions were scrutinized by law enforcement.
However, Patrick is clearly not alone. He’s not the only one who doesn’t want this program to be a “license to profile.” And if profiling continues to be the new American way, more opposition will be apparent, hopefully creativing new solutions for federal authority on immigration.