Monday, June 8, 2009

Secure Communities Dragnet: Innocent or Guilty

(Part of a BorderLines series on ICE's Secure Communities Program.) Having one’s fingerprints on file does not necessarily mean that the person has been convicted of a crime. With Secure Communities, the search for a match with the DOJ and DHS databases will take place principally as part of the booking process. Subsequently, charges could be dropped, the case dismissed, or the individual declared innocent. However, if there is a match with the IDENT database, ICE can still issue a detaining order. If Secure Communities targeted only “dangerous criminal aliens,” then this merger of the criminal justice and immigration systems could be justified. But, given ICE’s wide-net practices, the justification for checking the immigration status of those booked in local jails but not yet tried or convicted falters. Policy Recommendations: Clearly, having the Secure Communities immigration status checking click in as soon as a person is booked or is otherwise fingerprinted facilitates ICE’s work. If the central purpose of Secure Communities is to use local law enforcement as a force-multiplier in the work of detaining and removing illegal and criminal aliens, checking the immigration status of those booked but not tried or convicted certainly facilitates that goal. But that’s not how ICE has described the program to Congress. Rather the central objective, at least as it is publicly iterated, is to make communities more secure by ridding them of criminal aliens. The increasing emphasis by DHS on federal/local collaboration in immigration enforcement needs to be reassessed. Before the program proceeds further, there should be a thorough review of the program’s practice of having a person’s immigration status checked regardless of the severity of the crime for which she or he has been arrested and prior to the determination of that person’s guilt or innocence. ICE may make the argument that all immigrants whose immigration papers are not in order are legitimate targets for detention and removal. As true as that may be, it doesn’t mean that local law enforcement should be engaged in this dragnet. Next: Three Fundamental Problems with Secure Communities (series conclusion)

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