Deported for Running a Red Light
By William Fisher
NEW YORK, Aug 19, 2010 (IPS) – A government programme designed to prosecute serious criminals is instead deporting people who received traffic tickets and committed other minor offences, according to immigration rights advocacy groups.
The organisations charge that 79 percent of people deported through the so-called Secure Communities programme are not criminals or were picked up for lower level offences, like traffic violations and juvenile mischief.
Of the approximately 47,000 people deported through the programme from its inception in October 2008 through June 2010, only about 20 percent had been charged with or convicted of serious “Level 1” crimes, like assault and drug dealing.
The groups also assert that the programme “serves as a smokescreen for racial profiling, allowing police officers to stop people based solely on their appearance and arrest non-citizens, knowing that they will be deported, even if they were wrongfully arrested and are never convicted.”
The charges stem from a Freedom of Information lawsuit brought by the National Day Laborer Organizing Network, the Center for Constitutional Rights, and the Immigration Justice Clinic of the Benjamin N. Cardozo School of Law.
The organisations claim that documents obtained through the lawsuit “reveal a pattern of dishonesty” regarding the Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) Agency’s “Secure Communities” (S-Comm) programme.
S-Comm is a partnership between immigration authorities and local police. It encourages local police to help enforce federal immigration laws by arresting suspected wrongdoers and turning them over to ICE.
ICE officials have declared their intention to expand S-Comm into every jurisdiction in the country by 2013; it currently operates in 544 jurisdictions in 27 states. The programme automatically runs fingerprints through immigration databases for all people arrested and targets them for detention and deportation even if their criminal charges are minor, eventually dismissed, or the result of an unlawful arrest.
The groups charge that ICE “has been dishonest with the public and with local law enforcement regarding S-Comm’s true mission and impact. While ICE markets S-Comm as an efficient, narrowly tailored tool that targets ‘high threat’ immigrants, it actually functions as a dragnet for funneling people into the mismanaged ICE detention and removal system.”
They also claim that the programme “serves as a smokescreen for racial profiling, allowing police officers to stop people based solely on their appearance and arrest non- citizens, knowing that they will be deported, even if they were wrongfully arrested and are never convicted.”
Sunita Patel, an attorney with the Center for Constitutional Rights, told IPS, “The misnamed Secure Communities programme is the Department of Homeland Security’s current scheme to rope local cops into immigration enforcement. Though branded as a race-blind way to arrest certain people, the numbers show it’s actually trap.”
And Francis Boyle, a law professor at the University of Illinois, told IPS, “This is simply an exercise in racial profiling against Latinos.”
Records obtained in the lawsuit “reveal a dangerous trend”, said Pablo Alvarado, NDLON’s executive director. “This programme creates an explosion of Arizona-like enforcement at a time when the results have proven disastrous. Thanks to S-Comm, we face the potential proliferation of racial profiling, distrust of local police, fear, and xenophobia to every zip code in America.”
The advocacy groups report that preliminary data confirms that some jurisdictions, such as Maricopa County in Arizona, have abnormally high rates of non-criminal S-Comm deportations.
The national average of Secure Communities deportees with no criminal records was about 26 percent, but that figure also varied wildly around the country. It was 54 percent in Maricopa County, Arizona, whose sheriff is the target of hundreds of civil rights lawsuits and investigations – including one by the Justice Department – for staging indiscriminate immigration raids.
In a move that legal experts describe as unusual, the Justice Department this week threatened to sue Maricopa County sheriff Joe Arpaio for being uncooperative in their investigation into whether he misused his power to harass and arrest Hispanics.
The dispute threatens to exacerbate the standoff between the Obama administration and Arizona’s governor, Republican Jan Brewer, over the state’s new immigration law. The immigration law has become issue number one in the November midterm elections.
The Justice Department has taken legal action to challenge Arizona’s new “show me your papers please” law, B-1040, which would allow local law enforcement officers to arrest people if they have reason to believe they are in the country illegally.
A federal judge has ruled that many sections of the law cannot go into effect until an appeals court rules on its legality. The government has claimed that federal law is the nation’s only immigration law and that states cannot pass immigration laws of their own.