Photo by Jorge Mariano.
San Diego County recently announced that it would soon be partnering with ICE and dedicating its energy to identifying immigrants in jail for deportation. ICE unveiled its new program – The Secure Communities Program – in March 2008. It gives jails access to ICE and FBI databases so that they can identify inmates who lack legal status or have a criminal history and then turn them over to ICE for deportation. Through this new initiative, ICE plans to eventually have a presence in every one of the 3,100 local jails throughout the U.S.
While removing dangerous criminals from the U.S. is an understandable goal, Secure Communities appears to be the latest in ICE’s attempts to get states and localities to do their jobs for them. The best known of these is the 287(g) program, through which local police are trained by ICE, and agree to jointly enforce immigration laws.
But are these programs really good for localities? We already know that ICE has trouble responding to police requests in a timely fashion. While ICE will prioritize dangerous criminals, past experience has shown that the agency may not have the resources to respond to calls to pick up prisoners from 3,100 jails across the country. Local jails will likely end up paying to detain immigrants for long periods of time. Rather than spending its time picking up and deporting run-of-the-mill undocumented immigrants from jails ICE should probably be dedicated its limited resources to going after violent offenders, traffickers, kingpins, and terrorists.
Programs like Secure Communities and 287(g) pose other problems as well. Not everyone in jail is a criminal, but people who are briefly detained before being cleared may end up getting deported. Some unscrupulous police departments may engage in racial profiling, picking up people they suspect of being undocumented and landing them in jail so their immigration status can be checked. This can mean costly litigation and settlements footed by the taxpayers. The FBI and DHS databases contain errors, and at least one database has been exempted from the Privacy Act requirement that the data be accurate. These errors can result in the deportation of the wrong people. Police agencies and jails are already stretched, and they don’t have unlimited resources to devote to doing the federal government’s job. Just the mere suggestion that police are working with ICE on immigration enforcement sends a chill through immigrant communities, meaning some people won’t cooperate with the police and report crimes, and the entire community is less safe.
It’s time for comprehensive immigration reform that includes a legalization program for those who learn English, pay back taxes, pay a fine, and have no criminal history. Taking roughly 12 million people off the table would allow local police and the federal government to really concentrate their energies on truly dangerous threats to people in this country.