Thursday, March 26, 2009

Secure Communities -- Latest Immigrant Crackdown Initiative

(An article in the BorderLines series: "Aliens, Crime, and Drugs: Making the Connection.") The Department of Homeland Security already has a “comprehensive” plan in operation for immigration. It deals with both illegal and legal immigrants, not through some complicated political reform that tests the political will of our politicians but through the simplicity of database integration. Despite many concerns about its accuracy expressed by civil libertarians and worker advocates and despite the fact that in the short or medium term there is little hope for an immigration reform that will enable the vast population of illegal immigrants to regularize their status, the E-Verify identification system is quickly moving forward. Fewer concerns have been expressed about another ID system that is quickly gaining hold among police departments around the country. That lack of opposition is in due in part to the fact that the “Secure Communities” is quite new and in part because that, while targeting both illegal and legal immigrants, the focus is on criminals. Striving to build a broad coalition in support of comprehensive immigration reform (CIR), immigrant-rights advocates are understandably reluctant to oppose the intensifying drive to remove criminal aliens from America. With both Homeland Security and CIR advocates rallying behind a “rule of law immigration stance, the political will to stand behind criminal aliens is hard to find. There’s been no congressional opposition to successive DHS initiatives over the past several years that simultaneous have clamped down on criminal aliens while widening the definition of what a criminal alien is. Its latest criminal alien initiative, "Secure Communities: A Comprehensive Plan to Identify and Remove Criminal Aliens," shows more potential for involving localities in immigration enforcement. ICE explains that Secure Communities, which it introduced in mid-2008, will “change immigration enforcement by using technology to share information between law enforcement agencies and by applying risk-based methodologies to focus resources on assisting communities remove high-risk criminal aliens.” Instead of training local law enforcement officials in immigration law enforcement, ICE equips police, sheriff departments, and local jails with “integration technology that links law enforcement agencies to both FBI and DHS biometric databases.” Whereas police now routinely submit data on suspects to the FBI, they will now be able to simultaneously check immigration and criminal databases. In the program’s first eight months, ICE has entered into agreements with fifty localities to use this integrated technology when booking prisoners. ICE says that “in collaboration with DOJ and other DHS components, ICE plans to expand this capability to all state and local law enforcement agencies throughout the nation.” Announcing its latest agreement with Fairfax County, Virginia on March 9, Executive Director for ICE Secure Communities David Venturella said, “Secure Communities is a new effort to identify and ultimately remove dangerous criminal aliens from our communities. Our goal with this ICE program is to use technology to prevent criminal aliens from being released back into the community, with little or no additional burden on our local law enforcement partners.” “This is a win-win situation both for the community and law enforcement,” said Fairfax County Sheriff Stan Barry. “We will be able to identify illegal immigrants who commit crimes in Fairfax County and get them in the process for deportation, and it does not require additional funds or manpower from us.” "We view our participation in Secure Communities as an additional tool to enhance what is already a very effective partnership with Immigration Customs Enforcement," said Larry Boyd, chief of police in Irving, Texas, which joined up in February. At its heart, Secure Communities is a technological identification program developed jointly by the Justice and Homeland Security departments. It integrates DHS’ new US VISIT Automated Biometric Identification System (IDENT), which holds biometrics-based immigration records, with the FBI’s Integrated Automated Fingerprint Identification System (IAFIS), which contains biometric-based criminal records. Other components to DHS’ new focus on computerized identification programs and expanded immigration databases are its Law Enforcement Support Center (LESC) and its new Video Teleconferencing project (VTC). Through its widening net, ICE is catching a rapidly rising number of criminal aliens. In 2008 it identified 221,000 aliens in local, state, and federal prisons, who will be remanded to ICE for removal. That’s up from 164,000 incarcerated criminal aliens in 2007 and 67,000 in 2006. With the acceleration of Secure Communities, ICE expects these annual metrics of success to skyrocket. ICE claims that it is “transforming community safety by transforming the way the federal government cooperates with state and local law enforcement agencies to identify, detain, and remove all criminal aliens held in custody.” When situated within the War on Crime, the immigrant crackdown counts on more support. While other DHS initiatives, such as its worksite raids and border fence, have come under widespread criticism, DHS has found broad support for its focus on criminal aliens – which is one reason why the Obama administration is insisting that such programs will be a priority. Next: Fightng the Drug War at Homeland Security
Photo: USMS immigrant prison in Sierra Blanca, Texas

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