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Racial Profiling, False Arrests, Deportation -- The True Face of Federally Mandated "Secure Communities"

Advertised as a way to target and deport “criminal aliens,” the reality is that Secure Communities is itself the danger.

One man was selling ice cones on the streets of Queens, New York, without a vendor’s license. Another spit on the sidewalk. Then there was the man in Virginia who picked up a piece of firewood on national forest property, the woman in Arizona who made a wide right turn, and the pair who were fishing without a license in Florida.

Many of these people are gone, now, because the police hauled them into the precinct for these Kafkaesque offenses and then sent the suspects’ fingerprints to be cross-referenced with an immigration database. Soon, Immigration Customs and Enforcement (ICE) slapped the men and women with a hold and whisked them off to a detention center, where some are still imprisoned. Others have already boarded a plane headed someplace far away from their homes.

On May 15, 2012, the federal government mandated that Secure Communities—an immigration policy that allows for this type of highly mechanized and little scrutinized street-to-deportation channel—take effect in New York, Massachusetts and other holdout states. Advertised as a way to target and deport “criminal aliens,” the reality is that Secure Communities is itself the danger. Instead of deporting violent felons, it has overwhelmingly led to the racial profiling, arrest and deportation of hundreds of thousands of residents for either minor or sometimes even invented crimes. And it isn’t only a threat to migrants; the program has already detained thousands of U.S. citizens and is helping the feds amass a surveillance database that will affect us all.

Technically speaking, Secure Communities is no more than an automated forwarding system—like the out-of-town email response your boss enables in August. When a person is arrested, a local precinct fingerprints the suspect and sends the information to the FBI to check the criminal database for former arrests or pending warrants. Under Secure Communities, the FBI then sends the person’s information to the Department of Homeland Security to check the suspect’s immigration status in ICE’s database. If ICE deems the person deportable, the agency then requests that the local precinct keep the person in custody until ICE transfers them to a detention center. 

“The chilling effect of S-comm is that everyone becomes an immigration agent,” said Sin Yen Ling, a lawyer with Queens Public Defenders. 

The program’s considerable encroachment of the federal government is why local elected officials from across the country—including Chicago Mayor Robert Emmanuel, New York Governor Andrew Cuomo and New Haven Police Chief Dean Esserman—are outspoken opponents of the program. It doesn’t help that the federal government does not allocate funds or reimburse the local jails and precincts for the costs of holding those arrested. 

Moreover, data shows that those arrested and deported have rarely committed a serious offense.

“When you strip down the aggregated statistics and look at the reality of who gets deported, you learn— as a think tank at Syracuse University recently reported—that only about 14 percent of those deported by ICE actually are charged with criminal conduct,” former Manhattan District Attorney Robert M. Morgenthau wrote in a recent Daily Beast article railing against the policy.

According to the Mexican Consulate General Carlos Sada, the reality is even worse: only 8 percent of those deported had allegedly committed a violent offense. Yet, the other 92 percent are often shackled at the ankles, wrists and waists during immigration court, as if those who had committed traffic violations were violent felons. 

Inside the detention centers, women often struggle to access medical care, such as pap smears, mammograms and trauma counseling, as well as basic necessities such as sanitary pads.

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