Secure Communities: ICE documents show policy change, push back

Secure Communities: ICE documents show policy change, push back

February 16, 2011
By Rina Palta

According to documents obtained by the Associated Press, the Obama administration changed its policy on communities’ participation in a controversial program targeting undocumented immigrants based on its popularity–as communities attempted to opt out of Secure Communities, the program switched from being voluntary to mandatory.

San Francisco and Santa Clara were among the handful of communities that actively tried to stay out of the program, which shares fingerprints from the county jail with Immigration and Customs Enforcement. And that push-back was apparently anticipated by Department of Homeland Security officials:

The administration rewrote the program’s participation rules, the documents show, considered withholding federal funding and FBI information from resisters and eventually dug up case law to justify requiring cooperation.

Throughout the turmoil, according to the documents, top officials knew they would get local resistance and were advised in late 2009 that the fingerprints could be checked against the immigration database without local buy-in.

“The SC (Secure Communities) initiative will remain voluntary at the state and local level. . Until such time as localities begin to push back on participation, we will continue with this current line of thinking,” says an e-mail written by Randi Greenberg, the communications and outreach chief of the program. It was sent to several people whose names DHS blacked out before releasing the documents.

The documents were released as part of a lawsuit by the Benjamin Cardozo School of Law, the National Day Labor Organizing Network, and the Center for Constitutional Rights. Those groups have been working to end the Secure Communities program, which they say works as a dragnet for rounding up undocumented immigrants, under the auspices of finding and deporting dangerous criminals. They point particularly to the idea that crime victims will be reluctant to call the police if they fear deportation.

DHS meanwhile, maintains that there’s no reason jails shouldn’t share fingerprints of those arrested at county jails–and that Secure Communities is doing what it was designed to do, remove criminals from the country. In a statement to the AP, ICE said that the program “has already resulted in the arrest of more than 59,000 convicted criminal aliens, including more than 21,000 convicted of major violent offenses like murder, rape and the sexual abuse of children.”