03/18/2010 05:12 am ET Updated May 25, 2011

Mission Creep in Immigration Enforcement

Although calls for revamping our immigration system strengthen daily, the changes we need remain months away at best. Until then, communities across the country will continue to suffer the consequences of immigration enforcement programs gone awry.

Our nation's commitment to equal rights and due process is currently being threatened, all in the name of enforcing our broken immigration laws. The Department of Homeland Security's (DHS) Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) agency justifies these violations of due process and equal protection of the laws by claiming it is enforcing immigration laws against "criminal aliens."

Through a series of poorly conceived programs such as 287(g), Secure Communities, and the Criminal Alien Program, ICE has hijacked state criminal justice systems and lets even arrests based on racial profiling or pretexts be a direct route to deportation. ICE argues that these programs target the "worst of the worst" of this country's undocumented population in a convenient attempt to justify the lack of due process afforded these individuals. But ICE's own definition of who exactly is "the worst of the worst" depends greatly on whether they are touting their own successes or not.

In meetings with stakeholders, ICE uses the term "criminal alien" to describe individuals convicted of crimes for which they may be deported. However, publicly ICE uses the term to include not only those convicted, but also those arrested for a much broader swathe of crimes.

Upon the one year anniversary of the Secure Communities Initiative, DHS announced that the program had successfully identified more than 111,000 "criminal aliens." Of these, more than 90 percent (100,000) were arrested for Level 2 or 3 crimes, which include traffic offenses and other minor infractions. ICE even counted naturalized U.S. citizens as criminal "aliens." ICE plays fast and loose with what constitutes a serious level 1 crime for the Secure Communities Program, putting an arrest for resisting an officer - a charge often directed at ethnic communities - on the same level as a murder conviction.

ICE uses the term "criminal alien" to justify any program aimed at a group that arouses little public sympathy, even when racial profiling or pretextual arrest or violation of fundamental principles of fairness is involved. As a New York Times editorial correctly identified, this rhetoric creates "a short line from Hispanic to immigrant to illegal to criminal."

ICE must be held accountable for its actions. The very immigrants who would benefit from immigration reform should be afforded the opportunity to be full participants in our communities rather than fearing whether racial profiling will result in their deportation. It's time for DHS to cut the spin and get to work on helping this country find a real solution to fix the broken immigration system.