03/02/2012 06:41 am ET Updated May 02, 2012

Secure Communities: The Real Cost of Failed Immigration Policy

By Jacquie Marroquin

In his 2013 proposed budget, President Obama outlined the administration's plan to cut $17 million from the failed and expensive 16-year-old 287 (g) program to expand the equally failed and expensive four year-old Secure Communities program. Both programs were created to allow state and local police to check fingerprints of the most violent, dangerous criminals who are booked in jail against federal immigration databases. If there is a discrepancy on the federal database, then local law enforcement must hold the person on a "detainer" until federal ICE agents can find out whether that person is documented or not. They then make decisions about whether or not to put that person into deportation proceedings. 

The assumption here is that everyone who is arrested must be a criminal because law enforcement does not arrest just anybody, right? This is where it gets complicated. You see, the federal government defines crimes by levels. Level 1, or Aggravated Felonies, are "two or more crimes each punishable by more than one year." Secure Communities sounds like it keeps people safer and falls in line with the original intent of the program, but according to ICE, only 3 out of 10 people deported actually fall into this serious category.

According to its own data from 2008 to 2011, ICE deported 7 out of 10 of undocumented immigrants who were non-criminals or low-level offenders at the national level. This means that the overwhelming majority of people who fell victim to Secure Communities and 287(g) did not fit the original intent of the programs:

  • We know Felipe Montes, who was deported to Mexico from North Carolina in 2010 and is now fighting to keep his parental rights to his US Citizen children who are currently in foster care. 
  • We know Jakadrien Turer, a 15-year-old US Citizen who was deported from Texas to Colombia in 2011 and was missing for several months before her family learned of her whereabouts and brought her home. 
  • We know Maria Bolanos from Maryland, who called police for help when her partner beat her only to find herself arrested and under the very real threat of deportation.

In other words, any and every interaction with law enforcement can make an undocumented, documented immigrants and even US Citizens--vulnerable to additional scrutiny from ICE and even deportation. Everyone wants to live in safe communities, but making victims and witnesses of crime vulnerable to deportation hurts public safety for everyone.  Therefore, Secure Communities is no longer serving our interests and no longer reflects the values we share as Americans.

Did you also know that, according to a fiscal overview report from the National Immigration Forum from February 2011, the government spends $23,000 to deport a single immigrant? (As a side note: the Department of Health and Human Services also reports that the poverty level for a family of four is $24,000 a year.) The report states that the government deported 197,000 immigrants with no criminal record.  This amounts to more than $4.5 billion dollars a year to deport law-abiding members of the community who would otherwise fuel economic prosperity through their productivity, tax contributions and power as consumers. 

With virtually no oversight from Congress and an ever-increasing and unquestioned budget, Secure Communities accomplishes the exact opposite of what it was intended to do.  According to the Administration, "The President's 2013 Budget is built around the idea that our country does best when everyone gets a fair shot, does their fair share, and plays by the same rules." However, the very nature of the Secure Communities program goes against the very grain of the President's statement.  Immigrants are not getting a fair shot, the federal government is not doing its fair share to create fair and just immigration reform with a clear path to legalization, and everyone is not playing by the same set of rules. 

Secure Communities is not America at it's best.

Until the federal government takes responsibility to reform an immigration system that is outdated and no longer serves our interests, it is up to states to take action.  It can go one of two ways: the way of draconian anti-immigrant policies like Arizona or Alabama, or the workable solutions that moves us forward together like California, where TRUST Act 2.0 (AB1801 Ammiano) is making its way through the legislature.  Trust Act 2.0 would reform the state's participation in the failed Secure Communities program to reduce the burden on local governments and local police, reestablish trust between law enforcement and local communities to truly make all communities safe for everyone.

Jacquie Marroquin is a Program Coordinator with the California Partnership to End Domestic Violence. She has worked with domestic violence and sexual assault survivors for over 10 years. Jacquie is also a 2010-2011 Fellow of New York University's Women of Color Policy Network.