Democracies Don't Govern in Secret

11/04/2010 05:41 pm ET | Updated May 25, 2011

Last week, my organization took federal immigration authorities to court. Represented by our attorneys at the Center for Constitutional Rights and the Benjamin Cardozo Law School, we asked a federal judge to order the Department of Homeland Security to shed some light on its dangerous new program ironically called its "Secure Communities" strategy. The program, which Fox New's Bill O'Reilly enthusiastically called "the Obama Administration's Best Kept Secret" is being steamrolled across the country at breakneck speed.

Originally started as an experiment during the Bush administration to allow local police to apply for immigration enforcement powers, the Secure Communities program under Obama's administration is being forced on jurisdictions without debate, discussion, or deliberation. And while DHS officials have repeatedly appeared on Fox News to market the program as a get-tough initiative targeting dangerous criminals, the administration has resisted requests to discuss program details in public. It is now obvious why they have been so recalcitrant. Documents produced as a result of our litigation reveal very clearly that the program not only doesn't target the people it says, but it actually likely makes communities less safe, and it certainly imperils bedrock civil rights.

In an extreme departure from hundreds of years of US law and policy, the new program apparently seeks to turn us all into Arizona by converting all local jails throughout the country into primary enforcers of federal civil immigration law. Many have noted the Orwellian named program is being implemented largely in secret. No one really knows how it works, to whom it is accountable, or how local governments can opt-out.

Advocates filed in court last week to do what should be automatic in a democracy, to ask to uncover the truth and stop irreparable harm. Credited with the record high deportations we've seen in the past year, we have begun to call this rebranded 287g program, "inSecure Communities." The fact that immigration authorities see 400,000 deportations as a badge of honor instead of a moral and humanitarian crisis signals the shift in attitude the administration has toward the suffering of migrant and communities of color.

Regardless of what one thinks about the program, all sides of the political spectrum can agree that programs which "revolutionize" federal policing should not be expanded in secret. The lack of information about such a drastic change in policy is worrisome. The forced implementation is un-American. It's not just our immigrant families but our government that is at stake. Democracies don't govern in secret. It's time to open the record and uncover the truth.

Pablo Alvarado is the director of the National Day Laborer Organizing Network (NDLON). NDLON, Center for Constitutional Rights, and Cardozo Law Clinic filed under the freedom of information act in April of 2010 to shed light on Immigration and Customs Enforcement's police/ICE collaborations. More information can be found at