Immigrant Rights Groups Challenge ICE Secure Communities

Immigrant Rights Groups Challenge ICE Secure Communities

December 9th, 2010 1:29 pm ET
By: Billy Wharton

Immigrant rights groups are taking their fight to court in New York City today as Federal immigration officials attempt to increase their collaboration with local law enforcement.  The Center for Constitutional Rights (CCR) and the Kathryn O. Greenberg Immigration Justice Clinic of Cardozo Law has filed an injunction on behalf of the National Day Laborer Organization Network.  The injunction requests that Federal officials fully disclose information on the controversial new Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) Secure Communities program.

The Secure Communities Program is a partnership program between Federal officials and local law enforcement agencies.  As part of the initiative, ICE officials are given access to local arrest records in order to run them against their databases to determine the arrestee’s immigration status.  If the person’s name appears on the ICE database, a detainer is issued and the person is taken into custody by ICE.  As a part of the program, the Federal Government has claimed to be targeting primarily “Level 1” criminals who have been arrested for violent crimes.

Rights groups are protesting the program since it serves to infuse all local policing with an immigration enforcement perspective.  This opens the door for a form of racial profiling since it provides local police with an extra incentive to arrest suspects they view as possible immigrants – namely the ability to run names through the Federal databases.  In addition, ICE has not created any clear procedures to protest being mistakenly placed on the database, which opens the door for wrongful persecution.  Rights groups are also skeptical about the Federal claim that they are primarily examining Level 1 criminals.

The injunction filed today in New York City, seeks to attempt to force ICE to fully disclose all of the information about the program.  In particular, since ICE claims that the program is not mandatory, rights groups would like to know how local enforcement agencies are able to opt-out.

“As advocates across the country are pushing on the state and local levels to find a way to opt-out of Secure Communities,” said CCR staff attorney Sunita Patel, “we are going to court to obtain information that the public and advocates need to determine how and if it’s possible to opt-out,”

New York State officials have been making active attempts to opt-out of the Secure Communities program.  Federal officials have sent contradictory responses to New York Governor David Paterson during these opt-out inquiries.  At first, ICE officials assured him that no state would be forced into the program, but then claimed that “[W]e do not see this as an opt-in opt-out program.”

In many ways, the Secure Communities program represents a digital extension of the controversial SB 1070 laws in Arizona.  While it does not require that local law enforcement check immigration status, it does create an infrastructure, one designed without safeguards, to use local police forces as an immigration enforcement wing.  Sarahí Uribe of the NDLON summarized it succinctly, “To keep our families together, we need to keep police and ICE separate.”

Today’s injunction is attempt to shine some light on this dangerous program and, ultimately, to end the intensification of anti-immigrant repression.  Organizers are calling for protests against the program to back up their legal strategies.