Push to End DHS Secure Communities Program

October 25, 2011

There are probably few people who would oppose the deportation of illegal aliens who have committed serious crimes. But between October 2010 and September 2011 ICE deported 396,906 illegal immigrants, which is the largest number of yearly deportations in U.S. history. It is ironic that the record breaking numbers have occurred under the Obama Administration that promised immigration reform. The President promoted bringing the illegal immigrants out of the shadows to put them on a pathway to citizenship, not reaching into the shadows to deport them.

The cost of one deportation is estimated at $12,500, so deporting an estimated 400,000 costs taxpayers $5 billion, according to the Philly Insights.

An analysis, Secure Communities by the Numbers by Aarti Kohli, Peter Markowitz and Lisa Chavez from Berkeley Law at the University of California states that annual deportations have increased by 400% since 1996 with over 1 million people being removed just during the Obama Administration.

Secure Communities is a program started by the Bush Administration where the federal immigration officials partner with local law enforcement. The report states that the program is active in "1,595 jurisdictions in 44 states and territories." Based on the report, the program is a human rights nightmare. While the federal and local law enforcements officials are supposed to be targeting criminals according to the report "well over half of those deported through Secure Communities had either no criminal convictions or had been convicted only of very minor offenses, including traffic offenses."

I located the Berkley report after listening to a story yesterday on NPR that describes how numerous U.S. citizens were deported under the Secure Communities Program. In fact, according to this report a stunning 3,600 U.S. citizens have been arrested by ICE. From the NPR broadcast:
Stevens looked at about 8,000 cases in just two immigration detention facilities. She found that about 1 percent of the time, people were eventually let go because they were U.S. citizens. However, that meant the citizens were held between one week and four years in detention.

Stevens says that when members of Congress hear the figure is 1 percent, they think it's not bad.

"However, if we think about the magnitude of our deportation process, that means that thousands of U.S. citizens each year and tens of thousands in the course of a decade will be detained for substantial periods of time in absolute violation of the law and their civil rights," she says.
The NPR story tells how U.S. citizens were mistakenly deported to Mexico. The Berkley report states that thirty-nine percent of the aliens who were arrested have a U.S. citizen immediate relative.

Several states including New York, Massachusetts and Illinois wanted to opt out of the program, but DHS would not allow them to. From the report:
DHS declared that participation is compulsory for all jurisdictions nationwide; states and localities do not have the option to opt-out.21 Some counties have now begun using other mechanisms to limit ICE’s jail based enforcement programs, such as refusing to hold certain individuals on ICE detainers for transfer into immigration detention.
Another concern with the Secure Communities Program is the lack of due process afforded to detainees.
The report states:
Only those individuals who can pay for an attorney or who find a pro bono attorney have legal assistance during their proceedings. Even then, however, non-citizens in deportation proceedings face many barriers to accessing counsel, including locating coun- sel while in detention, collecting the needed paperwork for their case, and staying in contact with their attorney while they are in custody and being moved by ICE
The Berkley analysis recommends suspending Secure Communities until some safeguards and improvements are implemented and due process can be protected for affected individuals. Sounds like a sound plan.