New Call in Albany to Quit U.S. Immigration Program (NYT)

New Call in Albany to Quit U.S. Immigration Program
Published: May 9, 2011

A group of 38 state lawmakers sent a letter to Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo on Monday urging him to remove New York from a national program that has been a cornerstone of the Obama administration’s immigration enforcement efforts.

The letter comes about two months after another group of elected officials in the state, including 19 New York City Council members, sent a similar letter to Mr. Cuomo — part of a growing national chorus of hostility to the enforcement initiative, which has begun in most states and in some New York counties.

Under the program, called Secure Communities, the fingerprints of everyone booked into a local or county jail are automatically sent to the Department of Homeland Security and compared with prints in the agency’s databases. If officials discover that a suspect is in the country illegally, or is a noncitizen immigrant with a criminal record, they may seek to deport the person.

Last week, Gov. Pat Quinn of Illinois said he was pulling his state out of the program; it was the first time a state had sought to withdraw entirely. Mr. Quinn and other opponents complain that Secure Communities has strayed from its stated goal of ensnaring convicted criminals, particularly those found guilty of the most serious offenses, and that it is instead sweeping up many immigrants charged with low-level crimes or guilty only of being in the country illegally.

In their letter, the New York legislators applauded Mr. Quinn’s action, adding, “Given New York’s immigrant heritage and our leadership role in the nation, we firmly believe that our state, too, must immediately end this destructive program.”

A spokesman for Mr. Cuomo said on Monday that the governor and his staff were still reviewing the program.

The Bush administration began Secure Communities in 2008, intending to have it fully in place around the country by 2013. In May 2010, Gov. David A. Paterson signed agreements to cooperate, and by Monday, 24 of the 62 counties in New York had been added to the program. They include Nassau, Suffolk, Westchester, Rockland, Putnam, Orange and Dutchess Counties. They do not include New York City’s five boroughs.The new data-sharing system has contributed to a surge in deportations. Opponents worry that it could deter illegal immigrants from coming forward as witnesses to help law enforcement officers fight crime.

In March, a group of lawyers and immigrant advocates analyzed data from Immigration and Customs Enforcement, an arm of the Department of Homeland Security, and concluded that about one in four people deported under Secure Communities had not been convicted of a crime. In some jurisdictions, more than half of deportees were not convicted criminals, the advocates said.

New York’s counties began joining the system on Jan. 11. Through the end of February, about 80 percent of the immigrants detained as a result of Secure Communities had no criminal record, advocates said.

While Obama administration officials have said that states can technically opt out of the program, refusal to participate would be costly. Federal officials have warned that any state that declines to share fingerprints through the program will lose access to the criminal databases of other states and the federal government, seriously hampering crime-fighting efforts.