Editorial: The Widening Dragnet (NYT)

The Widening Dragnet
Published: August 14, 2011

The Obama administration has decided to stick with Secure Communities, the discredited but rapidly growing immigration-enforcement program that has helped it deport a million people in the last two and a half years. And not only stick with it, but force it down the throats of state and local leaders and law-enforcement officials, including the governors of New York, Illinois and Massachusetts, who have rejected the program, saying it is badly flawed and does more harm than good.

Secure Communities is a scheme that in effect makes every local cop a potential immigration agent. When a participating police agency sends an arrested person’s fingerprints to the Federal Bureau of Investigation, the prints are automatically forwarded to the Department of Homeland Security for an immigration check.

This has infuriated police chiefs and other law-enforcement professionals who say Secure Communities hurts community policing because it makes innocent immigrants fear the police and erodes the trust and cooperation of crime victims and witnesses. It also increases the danger of racial profiling and other constitutional abuses in immigrant neighborhoods.

Add the fact that the program sweeps up huge numbers of noncriminals and minor offenders — and has been plagued since its inception by miscommunication, deception, opacity and suspicion — and you have a program whose plug desperately needs pulling. But local objections are no longer an issue. The feds are insisting that Secure Communities will be imposed on every state by 2013, and no one can opt out. It’s nonnegotiable.

This has been the Obama way on immigration. He talks softly of giving hard-working illegal immigrants a chance to get out of the shadows and get right with the law, but has achieved nothing, through legislation or executive action, that would allow that to happen. All the while, the administration has moved to ramp up deportations, expanding the brutal efficiency of a system that Mr. Obama has acknowledged is broken, arbitrary and unjust.

After New York, Massachusetts and Illinois gained headlines by rejecting Secure Communities, the administration gave its answer. It simply revoked all the Secure Communities contracts it had negotiated with state and local governments and said it was imposing the program unilaterally. The message to states and localities was both unequivocal and disheartening: We don’t want your input — we just want your fingerprints.