Advocates Say Secure Communities Negatively Effects Community Safety in Austin, TX
Austin, TX – Austin-based organizations today expressed concern about Secure Communities, a federal program currently in use in the Travis County Jail which has been criticized as a form of racial profiling that undermines the needed trust between the public and local law enforcement. The groups, Grassroots Leadership, the Austin Immigrant Rights Coalition, and the ACLU of Texas, pointed to a new website, www.UncovertheTruth.org, a recently filed lawsuit for records related to this little-known U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) program, and a national campaign aimed to uncover the truth behind law enforcement and ICE collaboration. Austin was one of the first cities to implement Secure Communities. Today District of Columbia Councilmembers unanimously introduced a bill that will prohibit the DC Metropolitan Police from sharing arrest and booking information with Immigration and Customs Enforcement.
Secure Communities is ICE’s newest initiative, a technologically intensive version of ICE-law enforcement programs which digitally fingerprints all arrestees and crosschecks this information with ICE and FBI databases. As of November 2009, Secure Communities is in place in 168 jurisdictions in 20 states. ICE further plans to have Secure Communities presence in every state by 2011, and plans to implement it in 3,100 state and local jails nation-wide by 2013.
The Austin Immigrant Rights Coalition, in partnership with the Community Engagement Center of UT Austin, is conducting a study on the effects of the program on immigrant communities and local policing practices. Patricia Zavala of the Austin Immigrant Rights Coalition said, “Our research shows that there is significant differences in how immigrants and law enforcement understand Secure Communities: immigrants and their allies see Secure Communities as a new form of racial profiling that is undermining community trust in the police. Police, in contrast, are largely unaware of the program, or believe that it expands law enforcement resources for fighting crime.”
Preliminary research also indicates that over 80% of immigrants surveyed believed that local police collaborate with ICE. The majority of those surveyed added that such collaboration is the primary reason why they would not call the police in the event that they were a victim or witness to a crime.
“By collaborating with ICE, there is a concern that community trust in the police force will break down,” said Andrea Guttin, Esq., whose report The Criminal Alien Program: Immigration Enforcement in Travis County, Texas documented the impact of CAP, an ICE-local law enforcement program similar to Secure Communities. “When local police or jails are perceived to be acting with immigration enforcement agents, immigrants hesitate to contact police due to fears of deportation. As increasing numbers of immigrants come in contact with ICE after minor brushes with police, this fear becomes more acute.”
“The community as a whole is less safe when there is a lack of cooperation with law enforcement,” said Matt Simpson, policy strategist for the ACLU of Texas. “Law enforcement should strive for increased trust from the public. All Secure Communities does is drive a wedge between two groups who should be working toward the same goal — a safe community.”