August 10, 5:13 PM · John Egan – Austin Market Examiner
Travis County, Texas, so far has deported a higher percentage of non-criminals than any county in the federal government’s new Secure Communities project. The controversial program, launched in 2008, automatically checks fingerprint records of jail and prison inmates to see whether they’re in the United States illegally.
In Travis County, 82 percent of 724 total deportations under the Secure Communities program were of non-criminals, according to an analysis of federal data collected by a coalition of immigration advocacy groups. The Travis County data covers June 2009, when the county joined the program, through April 2010.
“This indicates police officers are picking up people on pretext, the criminal charges are getting dropped or dismissed, and they’re getting shuttled into deportation,” Bridget Kessler, clinical teaching fellow at the Immigration Justice Clinic of the Benjamin N. Cardozo School of Law, told reporters.
The clinic along with the National Day Laborer Organization Network and the Center for Constitutional Rights filed suit to obtain the federal data.
Nationwide, an average of 26 percent of all Secure Communities deportations were of non-criminals, the groups’ analysis of 2008-10 data shows. County-by-county data released by the federal government stretched from November 2008 through April 2010; the tally comprised more than 160 counties in 19 states.
In all, nearly 47,000 people identified through Secure Communities in the than 160 counties were deported from the United States, documents gathered by the advocacy groups indicate. Of those, nearly 12,300 were deemed non-criminals and more than 9,800 were tagged as having committed the most serious crimes.
Richard Rocha, an Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) spokesman, told The Associated Press that non-criminals may be people who failed to show up for deportation hearings, who recently crossed the border illegally or who re-entered the country after deportation.
The U.S. Department of Homeland Security has expanded the Secure Communities initiative to 27 states. By 2013, the Secure Communities program is expected to be rolled out nationwide.
“Secure Communities gives ICE the ability to work with our state and local law enforcement partners to identify criminal aliens who are already in their custody, expediting their removal and keeping our communities safer,” Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano said.
Secure Communities enables digital fingerprints obtained during the booking process to be checked against FBI criminal records and Homeland Security immigration records. By identifying any immigration record matches in jails and prisons, ICE can swiftly start deportation proceedings.
“The Secure Communities initiative reflects ICE’s ongoing commitment to smart, tough enforcement strategies that help ensure the apprehension of dangerous criminal aliens,” ICE Director John Morton said. “Expediting removals decreases the amount of time these individuals spend in ICE custody—saving taxpayers money and strengthening public safety.”
Immigration advocates complain that Secure Communities funnels people into the “mismanaged” ICE detention and deportation system, and serves as a “smokescreen” for racial profiling.
Pablo Alvarado, executive director of the National Day Laborer Organization Network, said: “This program creates an explosion of Arizona-like enforcement at a time when the results have proven disastrous.”
Center for Constitutional Rights attorney Sunita Patel added that Secure Communities “co-opts local police departments to do ICE’s dirty work at significant cost to community relations and police objectives.”
“Without full and truthful information about the program’s actual mission and impact, police are operating in the dark,” Patel said. “The bottom line is that thrusting police into the business of federal immigration enforcement isn’t good for anyone.”