Is Secure Communities making communities insecure?
Posted: 08/27/2011 06:07:40 PM PDT
The Justice for Immigrants Coalition of Inland Southern California (JFIC) is deeply concerned about the implementation of the Secure Communities (S-Comm) program in Riverside and San Bernardino counties.
Supposedly, the S-Comm mission is to identify, detain and deport undocumented immigrants who have committed major crimes by having local law enforcement check their immigration records at booking. The priorities were explained in 2010 by John Morton, the director of Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE), as those threatening national security, public safety and border security.
Instead, the program primarily detains people who have not been convicted of a crime and people who have made minor infractions or nonviolent misdemeanor offenses, e.g., driving without a license or not carrying identification. This program creates an environment of fear and mistrust within the immigrant community toward local law enforcement who now are directly linked with immigration enforcement. It also has increased arrests for minor infractions that before would have likely resulted in being cited and released. This leads us to believe that people are being more frequently arrested in order to screen them through immigration databases, something that will clearly lead to racial profiling and even false arrests.
The JFIC calls for an immediate end to the S-Comm program in Riverside and San Bernardino counties so that we can once again begin building back the lost trust between the immigrant community and local law enforcement. This program was never intended to trawl for people who have not been convicted of serious crimes, and as long as it does so, the JFIC will strongly oppose its implementation.
The Department of Homeland Security (DHS) and ICE have repeatedly changed their story relative to the purpose, priorities and mandatory nature of the S-Comm program. Just last week, DHS announced that local governments and law enforcement agencies cannot choose whether or not to participate in S-Comm even though it was originally sold to states and counties as a voluntary program. This mandatory decree will only strain already underfunded and overextended law enforcement agencies and strain the fundamental relationships that police have forged with the immigrant community.
Moreover, after repeatedly saying that ICE prioritizes the most serious criminals, local ICE agents and even ICE Director Morton have said that they only need to prioritize when they lack the resources to deport everyone. This is an automatic incentive to gather up as many people as possible no matter what supposed “crime” they have committed solely for the purposes of putting them through immigration screening, while very likely taking resources away from investigating and identifying the most dangerous threats to our public safety.
A recently published report from the American Immigration Lawyers Association confirms that an increasingly high number of their cases include “individuals who present no criminal justice concern to Local Law Enforcement Agencies and no risk to public safety (who) are nevertheless being funneled into the removal process.” This blurs the distinctions between local law enforcement and immigration enforcement to such an extent that many immigrants are now fearful of reporting crimes or asking the police for assistance. There have been instances where victims of domestic violence refuse to call the police because they fear deportation. Although ICE claims to now allow “prosecutorial discretion” for such cases, we continue to see innocent people being caught up in this enforcement dragnet.
In the Inland Empire, we have seen the tragic consequences of these enforcement programs when families are ripped apart and individuals are removed based on pretextual arrests like a broken bicycle light or other minor traffic violation. According to ICE’s own data on S-Comm, over 63 percent of those detained and deported in Riverside County have not committed a serious offense; 42 percent have committed no crime at all. San Bernardino County shows similar statistics: 62 percent of those deported through S-Comm either committed no crime at all or only a misdemeanor.
Countless police departments throughout the country have stated that the program interferes with the trust they have cultivated with the immigrant community. S-Comm has led to unreported crimes and a refusal to cooperate with criminal investigations. The results are that all of our communities are more dangerous with this “secure communities” program. Public safety and national security are the stated goals of S-Comm, but this program has increased insecurity.
Based on our belief that community policing is a fundamental practice that makes our cities safer, that our precious financial resources should not be used to hold an innocent mother or student in detention only because they didn’t have an ID, and that victims or witnesses of crime should not fear their own local police department, the JFIC calls for an immediate end to S-Comm.
Fernando Romero is the coordinator for the Justice for Immigrants Coalition of Inland Southern California, a pro-immigrant rights coalition consisting of more than 20 groups including the Diocese of San Bernardino, San Bernardino Community Services Center, Clergy and Laity United for Economic Justice, Inland Congregations United for Change, and Laborers’ International Union of North America.