As part of its new campaign to increase congressional funding for Secure Communities and to extend the program nationally, ICE has overhauled the program’s webpages and tweaked its description of the project.
ICE says that Secure Communities has “three pillars.” The first pillar is to “identify criminal aliens through modernized information sharing.” A second program pillar aims to “prioritize enforcement actions to ensure apprehension and removal of dangerous criminal aliens.” The third pillar is to “transform criminal alien enforcement processes and systems to achieve lasting results.”
One of the most persuasive arguments against comprehensive immigration reform is that reform is not viable without guarantees that the border is secure and immigration laws are being enforced. Even supporters of comprehensive immigration reform (CIR) have adopted the logic of this argument and as part of their strategy to advance CIR have backed tougher border control and immigration enforcement programs. Rep. David Price (D-NC), the leading congressional proponent of Secure Communities, is one of those who have advanced this nuanced argument as a way of advancing CIR.
A major problem with the enforcement-first position is that in the rush by DHS to enforce immigration law it has moved beyond the traditional instruments of immigration enforcement. Enforcement has become so pervasive and penetrating that all noncitizens- legal and illegal – have become increasingly vulnerable.
New government capacities to identify individuals through rapid checking of integrated databases have been tapped by DHS in immigration enforcement. Previously, such identification checks faced major technical and logistical obstacles.
The rapid advancement in automatic fingerprint identification systems has encouraged the federal government to launch new programs – such as the U.S. VISIT program – to increase the universe of fingerprint files and to begin integrating all identity databases. Not only are these databases, which include fields for other information about individuals, being integrated at the federal level, but led by DHS they are also quickly extending to local and state governments. Identification is at the heart of the Secure Communities program, and is its first “pillar.”
Identifying all “removable” aliens is the main strategic challenge for ICE. Secure Communities is an attempt to identify the sector of deportable aliens labeled criminal aliens using the latest advances in federal identification and communications technology.
As ICE explains, “The Secure Communities plan responds to the identification challenge by using biometric identification technologies currently in use by the FBI and other parts of DHS, and combines them in a new, powerful way.” Not only is a powerful enforcement tool now in use by ICE and Border Patrol agents, it is a technology that enables “local Law Enforcement Agencies to initiate an integrated records check of criminal history and immigration status for individuals in their custody.”
The identification process works this way: “A single submission of fingerprints as part of the normal criminal arrest / booking process automatically will check both the Integrated Automatic Fingerprint Identification System (IAFIS) of the FBI’s Criminal Justice Information Services (CJIS) Division and the Automated Biometric Identification System (IDENT) of Homeland Security’s United States Visitor and Immigration Status Indicator Technology (US-VISIT) program.”
If there is a match in the DHS system, ICE evaluates “the individual’s immigration status and provides a timely response to local law enforcement partners.”
Prioritization is ICE’s second priority. The problem for ICE is does not have the capacity to arrest, detain, and deport all “removable” aliens. It must, therefore, prioritize. Targeting criminal aliens is now a stated ICE priority, but even targeting this population of removable immigrants – estimated at 300,000 to 450,000 – is beyond ICE’s capacity. ICE estimates that $2-3 billion would be needed to implement this task.
Adopting the language of other ICE and Border Patrol programs, ICE says it will meet the prioritization challenge by using a “risk-based approach.” This means “assessing the risk each criminal alien poses to the public” and then focusing “immigration enforcement on the most dangerous criminal aliens first.”
Transformation is the third pillar of Secure Communities. ICE says that the vast new identification infrastructure that Secure Communities is installing – “deploying to the approximately 30,000 local jails and booking stations throughout the nation” – will tax its capacity to detain and deport all the aliens identified through the program, and it must, therefore, “transform [the agency’s] processes and systems.”
Basically, ICE is saying that it needs to become bigger and more efficient in deporting immigrants:
“To accommodate the increased number of criminal aliens, ICE is taking a mission-centric approach to optimize capacity — detention bed space, transportation resources to facilitate detainee transfers, and professionally trained staff to work the cases.”
Next: What's Wrong With Secure Communities?
Photo: La Salle Detention Center in Encinal, Texas (USMS immigrant detainees)