Federal immigration officials announced Friday that they will be ramming the Secure Communities program down the throats of all states and cities nationwide by 2013 -- irrespective of whether the states and localities have an agreement with U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) to participate in the program or whether they wish to participate at all.
The Department of Homeland Security (DHS) announced it was ending its signed agreements with governors and localities across the country because of confusion about whether jurisdictions can opt out of the Secure Communities program. In DHS's view, although they can't point to any law mandating the program, ICE plans to keep rolling it out nationwide.
There are so many shocking things about this announcement that it's difficult to know where to start.
For those who aren't familiar with the Secure Communities program, it's one of a handful of ICE programs (others include the 287g program and the Criminal Alien Program) that rely on local and state police departments to support federal immigration enforcement and share information with federal immigration officials. If the information shared, including fingerprints, shows that the individual may be eligible for deportation, ICE can request that the person be detained for further questioning and deportation.
According to ICE, 40 governors and localities have signed agreements with ICE to participate in Secure Communities. The initiative was sold by ICE as an optional program which aims at removing "criminals" who pose a risk to community safety. But when governors in states like Massachusetts, New York, Illinois found out that most of those being deported through the program were not criminals, they announced plans to opt out of the program. The damage done to police-community relationships was also cited as a significant factor in those states opting out.
But DHS Secretary Janet Napolitano and other high-level immigration officials with their "my way or the highway" approach said: There will be no opting out. States and localities are getting an offer they can't refuse.
This recent position ignores the previous statements of federal officials such as Secretary Napolitano, Assistant Secretary John Morton of ICE, and Asst. Attorney General Ronald Welch of the DOJ who told Members of Congress and others that communities could opt out of the agreements if they chose to.
On Friday's call with immigrant and civil rights groups, John Sandweg, Counselor to Napolitano, initially said that he wasn't sure what federal law mandated participation in Secure Communities. Later on the call, he told participants, including staff of the Rights Working Group that U.S. Code 1722 mandates Secure Communities. Right. It does nothing of the kind. Read it.
Civil liberties, civil rights and immigrant rights groups, including the Rights Working Group, have been calling for the termination of Secure Communities because it has become obvious that the partnerships between local and state law enforcement agencies and ICE have facilitated if not encouraged racial profiling based on skin color and appearance.
A clear example of this is evident in Irving, Texas where complaints of racial profiling were borne out by the facts.
A University of California-Berkeley Law School study showed a 150 percent increase in the arrests of Latinos in Irving, Texas, from April 2007 to September 2007, after the Irving Police Department began a partnership with ICE that gave police round the clock access to check the immigration status of those they arrested. When Irving police got full access to ICE, the round up began.
In addition to resulting in racial profiling, these partnerships damage relationships between communities of color and police. When people are afraid that calling police could result in deportation, they don't bother and police don't get the help they need to solve crimes.
Programs like Secure Communities have enabled President Obama to show he's tougher on immigration enforcement than President Bush -- he's increased deportations to a record level of 400,000, annually.
It's shocking and ironic that a president who heavily courted Latinos and won two-thirds of their votes in 2008 after promising a push for comprehensive immigration reform would, instead, do nothing on immigration reform while championing the deportation of undocumented migrants.
Candidate Obama promised to pass laws that would ban racial profiling in his 2008 Blueprint for Change but President Obama is backing policies that lead to more profiling.
Candidate Obama often talked of himself as a progressive former community organizer who believed in making life more equal for everyone. But President Obama seems to rarely champion anything progressive.
President Obama, what happened to the other Obama you used to talk about? Civil rights, civil liberties and immigrant rights groups want to know.