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On Securing Communities in New York

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Coming soon to a nabe near you: the Secure Communities program, courtesy Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE). But introduction and implementation of Secure Communities is being met with fierce opposition, as advocates call on Governor Paterson to rescind his Memorandum of Agreement (MOA) with ICE aimed at bringing the ill-conceived deportation program to the state of New York.

This past May, New York's Division of Criminal Justice Services signed an agreement with ICE aimed at implementing Secure Communities (or S-Comm, as it is more commonly known) to New York. Under the program, law enforcement agencies in the state are required to automatically forward to federal immigration databases the fingerprints of every arrested individual. US citizens, lawful permanent residents (green card holders) and undocumented immigrants are all subject to these database checks. Based on information that has often proven unreliable and incomplete, ICE then transfers individuals suspected of being deportable directly into the detention and deportation system, separating them from both their families and their communities.

"In his last month in office, Governor Paterson should do right by the people of New York and stop Secure Communities," said Manisha Vaze of Families for Freedom, a member of the New York State Working Group to Stop Deportation. "We cannot let our state's scarce resources fund a program that erodes trust with the police, encourages racial profiling, and funnels our immigrants into an unjust deportation system."

Families for Freedom is one of the advocacy groups participating in a demonstration coordinated by the Center for Constitutional Rights and scheduled to take place in front the midtown office of Governor Paterson. Later in the day, the Center for Constitutional Rights (CCR) and the Kathryn O. Greenberg Immigration Justice Clinic of Cardozo Law will request an emergency injunction in federal court in a Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) lawsuit NDLON v. ICE , filed on behalf of the National Day Laborer Organization Network (NDLON). The emergency injunction specifically requests documents related to the voluntary nature of the S-Comm program which, thus far, has been unclear.

Families For Freedom outlined its argument against introduction of S-Comm in New York:

  • It would impose hefty costs on on our state and localities. Even according to federal officials, S-Comm would "dramatically increase" the number of people held in jail for additional time to facilitate deportation. But the program provides no additional federal funding to state or local entities for the increased costs.
  • It exposes NY government officials to liability and costly litigation expenses. S-Comm does not afford sufficient protections or oversight, and the federal fingerprint database is known to have errors. But NY state and local officials, not federal officials, face significant liability for any wrongful detentions and deportations of people including U.S. citizens and lawful permanent residents. NYC recently paid $145,000 to settle one such violation. This money will not be reimbursed by the federal government. S-Comm threatens our safety and divides our communities.
  • It undermines the safety of our communities. When community members are afraid that interaction with local police might lead to deportation for themselves or a loved one, they are less likely to report crimes or cooperate as witnesses. This makes it harder for police to investigate crimes and erodes the faith of many communities in our promise of providing due process.
  • It funnels immigrants into a deportation system that denies them the right to a fair hearing. S-Comm will lead to the automatic deportation of many people who have minor criminal violations, who paid their debt to society, and who contribute to their families and to our state. Immigration judges are denied the ability to consider the facts of each case and, in some instances, people in the system are denied the right to appear before a judge at all.
  • It encourages racial profiling. Under S Comm, police may have an incentive to arrest anyone who appears to be undocumented, based on race or ethnicity.
  • It bolsters a dual system of justice. In NY State, immigrants are our coworkers, our neighbors, our family, and our friends. Yet S-Comm encourages a two-tiered system of justice, in which some New Yorkers are routinely denied bail, jailed for longer periods, and disqualified from alternative release programs. That unfair and short-sighted approach hurts whole families and neighborhoods across our state.
  • Rescinding NY's S-Comm Memorandum of Agreement (MOA), which was signed on May 18, 2010, between the NY State Division of Criminal Justice Services and ICE. NY government officials can follow the example of Washington, D.C., which rescinded its S-Comm MOA on June 23, 2010, after receiving public input on the program.
  • Stopping the activation of S-Comm immediately. Given the broad reach and grave consequences of this program, New Yorkers deserve an opportunity for meaningful public input and debate, along with the implementation of safeguards and accountability mechanisms to ensure that S-Comm will not endanger our communities, violate our rights, and divert state financial resources.

Arlene M. Roberts is the author of The Faces of Detention and Deportation: A Report on the Forced Repatriation of Immigrants from the English-speaking Caribbean.