A draft report by a Department of Homeland Security task force has found serious concerns with a deportation program run by Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) because of confusion about the program and tensions the effort has created for state and local police.
Police have traditionally run fingerprints through an FBI database to search for an arrestee’s criminal history and any outstanding warrants. Established in 2008, “Secure Communities,” the deportation program, allows the fingerprints to also be searched in ICE’s databases for possible immigration violations.
The program is designed to find criminal aliens and serious violent offenders. But it has generated growing criticism from those who think it turns up low-level criminals or people with no previous record.
“Mixing individuals who have no criminal convictions or who have only low-level convictions with serious offenders is having the unintended consequence of undercutting the credibility of the entire Secure Communities program,” said the report.
The task force was created earlier this year by ICE director John Morton and DHS after criticism from some cities, police groups and immigrant rights groups. Almost 50 percent of state and local police jurisdictions have begun using the program. DHS intends it to be nationwide by 2013.
The report notes, “Although Secure Communities has resulted in the identification and removal of many individuals posing a risk to public safety, serious concerns have been raised about the program, including its design, activation, implementation and unintended negative impact on local communities.”
The task force findings and recommendations will be reviewed by the Homeland Security Advisory Council, a group that advises DHS leadership. The report recommended that ICE reach out to and work with state and local law enforcement agencies to develop trust in the program.
“To the extent that Secure Communities may damage community policing, the result can be greater levels of crime. If residents do not trust their local police, they are less willing to step forward as witnesses to or victims of crime,” the report noted.
The task force recommended that ICE should focus on criminal aliens who pose substantial public and national security risks.
Under the program ICE has identified more than 77,000 who have been convicted of crimes, including over 28,000 felons linked to violent crimes such as rape and murder. Last year ICE deported 392,000 individuals as part of immigration removal operations, up from 291,000 in fiscal year 2007.
Some members of the Task Force decided to resign from the board rather than agree with all of the findings, including representatives from the AFL-CIO and the American Federation of Government Employees, which represents ICE officials.
In response to the report, DHS spokesman Matthew Chandler said, “We thank the members of the Homeland Security Advisory Council’s Task Force on Secure Communities for their service. The task force’s draft report has been transmitted to the Homeland Security Advisory Council membership who will review and finalize the task force’s recommendations prior to submission to ICE Director Morton.”
“In order to ensure that all input is received, Director Morton has invited the AFL-CIO, AFGE and others who chose not to include their names on the draft report to meet with him and discuss their concerns as he reviews the final recommendations,” Chandler said.