Friday, June 12, 2009

Border Bonanza: SBInet

(Second in "Era of Responsibility" on the Border series. First in the series: More Detention Beds.)
President Obama’s economic stimulus – officially the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act – is overloading the Southwest border with unneeded infrastructure, lavish technological fixes, and new contingents of federal drug and immigration agents. In the name of “border security,” the administration is injecting more than $400 million in Homeland Security programs on the Southwest Border. At a time when congressional oversight committees and the Government Accountability Office (GAO), as well as the Office of Inspector General (OIG) of the Department of Homeland Security, expressing major concerns and reservations about the effectiveness, management, and oversight of the technological component of DHS’ Secure Border Initiative (SBI), the Obama administration is providing economic stimulus funds to accelerate SBInet. Among the mounting concerns about the viability of SBInet are these: Unknown Cost: Presenting no hard figures to justify its cost estimate, Customs and Border Protection (CBP) has variously estimated that it will cost $6.7 billion or $7.6 billion to establish a technological surveillance system that covers all but one (Marfa) of the Border Patrol sectors along the Southwest border. OIG at DHS, however, cites estimates of $8 to $30 billion for the planned surveillance system that is now widely known as the “virtual fence.” History of Failure: The first deployment of SBInet on the border southwest of Tucson proved worthless. Despite the utter failure of the detection and communications systems by Boeing, the lead contractor for SBInet as well as for the border fence, in its Project 28, DHS told the company to rush the development of a new system, which is currently being installed in the same area. Management Mess: Because of the repeated CBP management failures since 2006 in the planning and implementation of SBInet, the House Homeland Security Committee charged CBP, through a provision in FY 2009 appropriations, with meeting 12 legislative conditions for the release of further appropriated funding ($400 million). A new GAO report (April 2009), building on a series of critical reports about SBInet management, found that CBP met only three of the dozen conditions. A year earlier, GAO had concluded: "Important aspects of SBInet remain ambiguous and in a continued state of flux, making it unclear and uncertain what technology capabilities will be delivered, when and where they will be delivered, and how they will be delivered.” Under the Recovery Act, $100 million of economic stimulus funding is being spent for technological border control. As CBP notes, this funding will contribute to CBP and DHS mission objectives by “accelerating development and deployment of SBNnet technologies on the U.S. southwest border, and modernizing CBP’s inventory of tactical mobile radios.” Specifically, $50 million in Recovery Act funding for SBInet will be used for “surveillance sensor technology,” including towers, cameras, radar equipment, and ground sensors. In its proposal for SBInet, CBP argues that it is fiscally responsible, stating: “CBP takes its stewardship of taxpayer dollars seriously.” What’s more it assures that there will be proper oversight of the controversial project, making no mention of the series of reports over the past three years by the Government Accountability Office criticizing CBP’s failure to provide adequate oversight, direction and evaluation criteria for SBInet. Similar concerns have been expressed by congressional committees responsible for homeland security operations. CBP asserts, however, that the SBInet program has in place the necessary “the end-user coordination, program management controls, management oversight, and external audit activities.” Furthermore, CBP says that is “extensive combination of internal controls and program management objectives “helps to preclude or minimize schedule delays and cost overruns.” Nor does CBP believe that there any obstacles to the effective deployment of SBInet detection and communications problems. “There are no known barriers to the effective implementation of activities associated with the accelerated deployment of SBInet technology components.” CBP, which through its Secure Border Initiative is also responsible for the border fence, also claims that it “takes seriously its stewardship of our Nation’s natural resources.” The “environment” and “sustainability,” says CBP, “will continue to be key considerations for projects under the SBInet program.” In its proposal, CBP couches its justification for the use of stimulus funds for SBInet in the context of national security. As CBP explains, “effective control of the borders will reduce the risk of potential terrorists and instruments of terrorism from entering the United States through our borders.” It also points to the “direct, short-term economic cost of the terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001” as a justification for stimulus spending on SBInet. In addition to the $27.2 billion in estimated short-term cost of Sept. 11, CBP argues that, in addition the short-term economic impact and the lost of lives, SBInet is economically justified because of the “longer-term impacts to many companies and industry sectors” as well as “increased security and military spending” caused by the Sept. 11 attacks. With SBInet in place, CBP argues it will be able to detect the illegal entry of terrorists, as well as smugglers of humans, drugs, and other contraband.
CBP, Boeing, and border subcontractors are busily installing the second array of towers, cameras, sensors, and microwave transmitters in the border area around Sasabe, Arizona, even as skepticism about CBP's capacity abounds.
(Next: Wish Fulfillment on Border: The Technilogical Fix)

Tuesday, June 9, 2009

Three Fundamental Problems with Secure Communities

(Conclusion of BorderLines series on Secure Communities.) Local jails could become a primary gateway for ICE’s detention and removal program if Secure Communities is extended nationwide in four years as is ICE’s intention. As national, state, and local policies make it more difficult for immigrants to obtain driver’s licenses, obtain housing, seek social services, etc, illegal immigrants will increasingly be obligated to operate in the shadows of the law – using false documents, driving without a license, giving false information, etc. If arrested and booked, immigration authorities will be alerted, and they will be transferred from the criminal justice system to the now closely associated immigration system. The number of legal immigrants who fall into this dual identity as criminals and aliens will also inevitably increase from the current estimates as the result of new infractions, minor or major. The rapid expansion of ICE’s Secure Communities program highlights three fundamental and worrisome trends in immigration policy: 1. Reckless merger of criminal and immigration law enforcement. 2. Rapid expansion of federal/local partnerships in immigration enforcement with little concern for negative impacts. 3. Evolving and opportunistic ideological frameworks and mission goals used by DHS to justify and shape its immigration enforcement practices and programs. Congress and the executive branch have long been negligent in not formulating a holistic immigration policy that makes sense to citizens and treats immigrants living and working in the country fairly. The launching of the Secure Communities program highlights this lengthening absence of a sensible and fair immigration reform. This sin of omission is accompanied by a lengthening series of sins of commission. In its drive to enforce existing immigration laws, the federal government has deepened and compounded the immigration crisis by enlisting the criminal justice system and local law enforcement. With little oversight or debate, DHS has provided ideological and political cover for its new enforcement practices by extending its own sense of mission. Secure Communities embodies all these problems.

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)

Sunday, June 7, 2009

The Criminal Alien Problem of Secure Communities

Central to the mission of Secure Communities is the removal of criminal aliens. It is not commonly understood in the immigration debate that ICE’s definition of criminal aliens includes both legal and illegal immigrants who have on at least one occasion become object of the criminal justice system. Since 2005 ICE has been increasingly charging illegal border crossers with criminal violations that result in sentencing and imprisonment in federal prisons.
Legal residents who are not citizens can also be classified as criminal aliens if they are judged by ICE or immigration courts to have committed an aggravated felony, crimes of moral turpitude, or narcotics charges. Since the late 1980s the definition and interpretation of these three categories of crimes has become increasingly broad – so detached from their common meaning that a shoplifting charge can be regarded as an aggravated felony or that drug possession can be used as grounds for deportation.
As the resources of ICE have expanded since Sept. 11, the agency has increasingly included legal immigrants who have a criminal violation in their record in its detention and deportation system. A legal immigrant who has served a prison sentence or has been convicted of a crime but never sentenced is a criminal alien, according to ICE, and may be subject to detention and removal – depending both on the nature of the conviction and on ICE’s available resources.
Secure Communities follows ICE’s broad definition of criminal alien to include any noncitizen convicted of an offense. Falling within Secure Communities’ priorities are “individuals who have been convicted of other offenses,” so broad to presumably include all misdemeanor violations or immigration violations. While this broad sweep approach to securing communities will certainly capture immigrants who do represent a threat to public safety, it extends the immigrant crackdown deeper far deeper into the immigrant community, legal and illegal, and will likely result in widespread personal, family, and community insecurity.
Policy Recommendations:
The Secure Communities program represents furthering linking of the criminal justice and immigration systems. This merger of criminal and immigration law has been in process since the mid-1990s but has speeded up in the past several years with the deepening focus on criminal aliens by DHS and its immigration and border control agencies. Criminal justice scholars refer to this merger as “crimmigration.”
Rather than further institutionalize crimmigration with the Secure Communities program, Congress should take steps to rollback the criminalization of immigration law and the new administration at DHS should rein in the agency’s campaign to remove criminal aliens.
Contrary to public perception, only a small number of those labeled criminal aliens by DHS as represent a serious threat to public safety. Because of new DHS practices that criminalize immigration violations, most of the newly classified criminal aliens are not criminals at all but only violators of immigration law (illegal border crossers, visa overstays, etc.). And contrary to public perception, DHS is also increasingly targeting legal immigrants in its crackdown on criminal aliens – many of whom are now being detained and deported for past crimes, including what for citizens would be considered misdemeanor violations.
As part of any new immigration reform, Congress should review previous legislation – including the Anti-Terrorism and Effective Death Penalty Act of 1996, the Illegal Immigration Reform and Immigrant Responsibility Act of 1996, and the US Patriot Act of 2002 – that have enabled the executive branch to steadily expand its criteria for designating immigrants, both legal and illegal, as criminal aliens. Without a major overhaul of immigration laws and DHS practices that cast an increasingly wide band of immigrants as criminal aliens subject to mandatory detention and removal, the Secure Communities program will dramatically increase the number of immigrants, legal and illegal (the overwhelming majority of which have no history of violent crime), who are fast-tracked for removal – and in the process disrupting tens of thousands of families and communities. Now is the time for Congress and DHS to reevaluate the criminalization of immigration law and the merger of the criminal and immigration systems.
Next: Secure Communities: New Gateway for Immigrant Removal
Photo/Tom Barry: Border wall/gate at Sasabe, Arizona/Sonora.

Saturday, June 6, 2009

Secure Communities Elevates Community Insecurity

Immigration enforcement and law enforcement have historically been separate government functions. Even at the federal level, there was little intersection between criminal law enforcement and immigration law enforcement, although until 2003 they were both housed in the Department of Justice.
In the wake of Sept. 11, there has also been increasing collaboration between federal immigration agencies and local law enforcement agencies. The legislative authority for cross-designation of local police as immigration agents, however, came in 1996, when Congress passed the Illegal Immigration Reform and Immigrant Responsibility Act, which added Section 287 (g) to the Immigration and Nationality Act. IIRIRA, passed by the new Republican majority in Congress, reflected the rise of an immigrant backlash movement in the country and accumulating support for conservative immigration reform.
There was little support, however, for the cross-designation authority of the 287 (g) amendment within the legacy Immigration & Naturalization Service. It was not until 2002 that the first 287(g) agreement was signed and not until 2005 that the program was widely promoted by DHS. Since its creation in 2003 ICE has promoted what it calls “law enforcement partnership” using the post-Sept. 11 ideological framework of national security. In its 2006 fact sheet on Law Enforcement Partnership and Section 287 (g), ICE made this national security argument for federal/local cooperation in immigration enforcement:
“Terrorism and criminal activity are most effectively combated through a multiagency/ multi-authority approach that encompasses federal, state and local resources, skills and expertise. State and local law enforcement play a critical role in protecting our homeland security because they are often the first responders on the scene when there is an incident or attack against the United States. During the course of daily duties, they will often encounter foreign-born criminals and immigration violators who pose a threat to national security or public safety.”
The administration and DHS are also stepping up federal/local cooperation in the new border security initiative that puts local police in close cooperation with ICE and especially the Border Patrol. Latching onto the concern about the possibility of spillover violence from Mexico, Secure Communities has added the drug war and border security to ICE’s evolving justifications for increased federal/local cooperation.
Program chief David Venturella recently told the House Appropriations Committee’s subcommittee on homeland security:
“We have made the southwest border area a top priority because of the recent surge in criminal gang activity and drug related violence along the border. And while we have already deployed to many locations in that region, we will expedite the deployment to even more locations in those border communities as part of the Secretary’s border security initiative.”
In the last few years ICE has deemphasized its national security mission as the central justification for its increased cooperation with local law enforcement agencies while pumping up the new community security justification. It continues to argue for the wisdom of a multiagency/mulit-authority approach that brings immigration and criminal law enforcement agencies together, while ignoring any public safety downside from such an approach.
Unlike some other ICE programs, especially the notorious 287 (g) program, which involve local law enforcement forces in immigration enforcement, the Secure Communities program is less vulnerable to racial and ethnic profiling. All those arrested and booked by participating communities will have their identities checked by DHS.
While cases of profiling in the Secure Communities will likely be less frequent, the new system does not preclude the possibility that local police arrest individuals primarily to have them processed by DHS. Without effective internal regulations, it remains possible that police will arrest and book individuals merely as a way to have them checked against the DHS database.
Suspecting that an individual is an illegal immigrant, a police officer could arrest an individual under flimsy charges. That person may not face any criminal justice consequences, but if determined by a DHS database to have reentered the country illegally or overstayed a visa, then there would likely be severe immigration consequences of a false arrest.

The merger of immigration law enforcement and criminal law enforcement in Secure Communities is likely to undermine community trust in local police. It is likely that community members will be more hesitant to report crimes if they know that in addition to the criminal consequences (jail time or probation) there will also be immigration consequences (detention and removal).
A neighbor or a wife might be reluctant to call the police to stop an escalating family conflict if they knew that they were also involving immigration police. Not only might the offending person be booked in the local jail to stop the conflict, but that person, possibly the family’s source of income, might also be deported, thereby forever breaking up the family.
Policy Recommendations: The arrest, detention, and removal of immigrants who do constitute a serious threat to national and community security are legitimate government functions. If communities understood that this was not only the stated goal of Secure Communities but also its practice, there would be less reason to fear that the program will erode community trust in local police. Community members would understand that only the most dangerous criminals will face immigration consequences when arrested on criminal charges.
If community security rather than wide-net immigration enforcement is indeed the objective of Secure Communities, ICE needs to overhaul the program. It needs to assure local police and communities that only the most dangerous illegal immigrants will be subject of the program’s identification and removal systems.
When enforcing immigration law, DHS should use its newly developed databases and the cross-checking capabilities, but extending these systems in local law enforcement without narrow and regulated targeting guidelines is unwarranted. Secretary Napolitano should halt the implementation of the wide-net Secure Communities program, and Congress should withhold funding until ICE establishes regulations to ensure that the program is more narrowly focused on dangerous criminal aliens.
It is also time for Congress to revisit its 1996 authorization for federal/local cooperation in law enforcement and immigration enforcement. The abuses associated with the 287 (g) program should prod Congress and ICE to review not only that program but all ICE and Border Patrol programs that systematically mix immigration and criminal law enforcement. The federal/local cooperation model spearheaded by the 287 (g) program is moving quickly ahead in the Secure Communities program without any close review by DHS or Congress.
With little oversight and no systemic overview, DHS is rapidly merging immigration enforcement with criminal law enforcement at all levels of government. This extension of immigration enforcement has been variously driven by fear politics about national security, community security, and most recently border security. It’s now time to provide this examination of rationale and impact of the dangerously expansive interpretation of DHS’s mission in immigration enforcement.
Next: The Criminal Alien Problem

Friday, June 5, 2009

Secure Communities Lacks Effective Prioritization

Secure Communities executive director David Venturella has assured Congress that the program will follow a “risk-based” approach. “We have enhanced ICE’s risk-based strategy that prioritizes the identification and removal of the criminal aliens who pose the greatest threat to our communities by developing classification levels for all criminal aliens based on the seriousness of their crimes and the totality of their criminal history,” Venturella told the House Homeland Security subcommittee on April 2.
The classification system developed by ICE consists of three levels of criminal aliens. Level 1 encompasses “individuals who have been convicted of major drug offenses and violent offenses such as murder, manslaughter, rape, robbery, and kidnapping.” Level 2 includes “individuals who have been convicted of minor drug offenses and mainly property offenses such as burglary, larceny, fraud, and money laundering.” Level 3 extends to “individuals who have been convicted of other offenses.”
ICE says it is using these three levels to prioritize Secure Communities resources. Although listing the three levels of criminal aliens it will use in the prioritization process, ICE has not explained how it will ensure that this prioritization process will be honored in practice. Given that Secure Communities includes immigrants who have been convicted of any offense – albeit as its third priority -- ICE is signaling that it will not limit immigration arrests to dangerous criminals.
Whereas in other ICE enforcement programs, nonpriority arrests are termed “collateral” cases, in this new program all immigrants, legal or illegal, who enter the criminal justice system, guilty or innocent, are included from the start as possible priorities.
“By prioritizing immigration enforcement actions on the most dangerous criminals, from apprehension through removal from the United States,” ICE says that it using “its resources judiciously.” Clearly, ICE operates within limitations. It doesn’t now have the resources (agents, prison beds, removal budget) to detain and deport the 300,000 to 450,000 criminal aliens that ICE estimates are held in federal, state, and local lockups. In other programs, such as Operation Streamline, ICE has limited criminal prosecutions of illegal border crossers according to the number of detention beds available in different sectors.
As the administration and Congress annually increase funding to Secure Communities and other criminal alien programs, there are unanswered questions about relationship between increased resources and ICE prioritization. Less obligated to use limit the number of detentions and removals as its resources increase, will ICE be less judicious in its prioritization? If there are unoccupied detention beds and available ICE agents in the vicinity, will ICE actually evaluate the threat to community security when deciding whether to detain an immigrant identified by a computer match?
Doubt about the integrity of ICE’s declaration that it will prioritize dangerous criminal aliens in the Secure Communities program also arises from the lack of prioritization in other ICE enforcement programs, including Operation Community Shield, Operation Return to Sender, National Fugitive Operations, and the 287(g) program. The absence of any demonstrable prioritization has led to widespread complaints that many of those arrested were simple violators of immigration law rather than criminals or fugitives.
A January 2009 Government Accountability Office report, “Immigration Enforcement: Better Controls Needed over Program Authorizing State and Local Enforcement of Federal Immigration Laws,” concluded that ICE was violating its own risk-based standards in the implementation of the 287 (g) program.
Although the main objective of the program is “to enhance the safety and security of communities by addressing serious criminal activity committed by removable aliens,” concluded the GAO, participating agencies had used their 287(g) authority “to process for removal aliens who have committed minor offenses, such as speeding, carrying an open container of alcohol, and urinating in public.” Among the GAO recommendations was that ICE “should establish a plan, including a time frame, for the development of performance measures for the 287(g) program.”
Although there is generally broad public support for the program’s priority targeting of the most dangerous criminal aliens, there is rising concern that in practice ICE does not prioritize. Without internal regulations that enforce the stated prioritization of those immigrants who represent a real threat to community security, the program will involve local law enforcement in a dragnet that picks up all levels of criminal immigrants, illegal and legal. Irving, Texas, one of the first communities involved in the new ICE criminal alien program, is now beset with intra-community tensions and rising Latino distrust of local police because of its increased cooperation with ICE, including being one of the first communities to adopt Secure Communities. ICE says that during the first three months of 2009 5,707 biometric submissions resulted in an IDENT match – of which 124 were “violent or narcotic offenders.” It does not define the character of these violent crimes nor indicate whether the narcotic offenders were large traffickers or solely users of illegal drugs. While elsewhere on its website ICE does offer descriptions of a dozen “success stories” of criminal aliens identified and detained as a result of Secure Communities, it has not yet presented figures to demonstrate that it is indeed prioritizing Level One offenders or that it is not instead detaining mostly Level Three offenders, as it has in other federal/local programs.
Policy Recommendations:
Before the administration and Congress give ICE a free reign with the Secure Communities program, they should stipulate that only when ICE has internal regulations in place that ensure that only immigrants who are threats to community security be found be subject to this intrusion of federal immigration enforcement into community law enforcement.
Similarly, prospective participating local law enforcement agencies should insist that ICE not use the identification capabilities of Secure Communities to shift vast numbers of immigrants from the criminal justice system into its detention and removal system. Many immigrants arrested by local authorities may later be found innocent. Many others, even if guilty as charged, may be legal or illegal immigrants who do not represent any serious threat to community security. Without clear and enforced prioritization, Secure Communities could devolve into an unfocused dragnet that harms communities than it protects them.
Photo/Tom Barry: The Immigrants, Luis Sanguino sculpture in Battery Park, NYC

Thursday, June 4, 2009

What's Wrong with Secure Communities?

Thus far Secure Communities has encountered no opposition in Congress and little public concern as it pushes its way into local law enforcement throughout the country. That’s understandable, given that its promise to make communities more secure and its focus on criminal aliens.
Also making Secure Communities attractive is the easy, no-cost integration into the booking and fingerprinting processes overseen by local police and sheriff deputies. Unlike the more controversial 287 (g) program, which cross-deputizes local law enforcement officers but provides no compensation for the added immigration enforcement expenses, Secure Communities comes with little cost.
The program is being totally underwritten by the federal government. The $200 million program, part of a larger $1.4 billion ICE budget for its criminal alien efforts, is slated for a $39 million budget increase in 2010.
Under Secure Communities, local law-enforcement jurisdictions simply agree to add simultaneous searches of DHS and FBI databases after fingerprinting arrestees. If there is a match, ICE is automatically notified electronically, and then ICE decides if it will request a detainer for identified immigrant.
Recognizing that other federal/local collaborative programs sponsored by ICE have led to widespread complaints of “racial profiling” by local police, David Venturella, director of Secure Communities, told the Homeland Security subcommittee of the House Appropriations Committee, that such complaints will be minimized under the new program, which checks the FBI and DHS data on all those booked in cooperating state and local jails. As Venturella explained, “The fingerprints of all persons arrested and booked will be processed through the system, regardless of race, nationality, or ethnicity.
There is still very little known how Secure Communities works in the field, but among the initial concerns are the following:
* Lack of regulated prioritization.
* Checked whether innocent or guilty.
* Expansive definition of criminal alien.
* Undermining community trust in public safety.
Next: Lack of Regulated Prioritization in Secure Communities

Wednesday, June 3, 2009

The Three Pillars of Securing Communities

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)

Monday, June 1, 2009

Obama's "Era of Responsibility" for Border Security and Immigration

(The first in a series of articles on the boom in federal spending for border security and immigration enforcement.) The Obama administration has promised a new “era of responsibility” in Washington. New “fiscal responsibility,” promises the administration’s budget director, will cut the budget deficit by the of Obama’s first term. But this fiscal responsibility is difficult to detect along the Southwestern border or in the ever-expanding archipelago of immigrant prison towns. At the Department of Homeland Security, the 2010 budget is increasing by 6%, while its Immigration and Customs Enforcement will be rising by at 11% -- that’s before Senate and House Democrats pass their own budget resolutions with promised additional increases for border security and immigration enforcement. Similarly at the Department of Justice, the immigration-related and border security budgets are overflowing with new federal funding. At a time when other industries are stagnating or sliding into bankruptcy, industries and economic sectors dedicated to border security and immigrant imprisonment are benefiting from generous flows of federal appropriations. Rather than using the economic downturn as an opportunity to reevaluate the cost-effectiveness and social impact of the border security and immigrant enforcement initiatives of the Bush administration, the Obama administration has, for the most part, increased the funding for these initiatives and reinforced them with its own directives. More Detention Beds While most public and media attention on immigration and border security has focused on DHS, the Justice Department is another font of federal funding for border security and enforcement initiatives. The home of the legacy Immigration & Naturalization Service, DOJ lost of the government’s border control and immigration enforcement agencies after the Sept. 11 attacks, when the Bush administration created the new monster federal bureaucracy, DHS. But, increasingly, DOJ is assuming an increasing role in border control and immigration enforcement. Through its Southwest Border Enforcement Initiative, for example, DOJ is playing a central role in the Obama administration’s Border Security Initiative. DOJ is also playing a rising role in immigrant detention as a result of new policy initiatives that criminalize illegal border crossing and broaden the definition of “criminal aliens.” One DOJ organization that has been called upon to participate in the immigrant crackdown is the Office of the Federal Detention Trustee (OFDT), which opened shop in September 2001 as the result of a congressional initiative that aimed to establish a coordinating office – to “avoid duplication” -- for all federal detention (immigrant and citizen) under DOJ. However, after the creation of DHS in March 2003 the new department refused to have its immigrant detention program coordinated by the DOJ, creating resentment within OFDT and leading to the sprawling and uncoordinated cross-departmental federal detention complex. As it turns out, though, immigrants are the driving force behind the expansion of DOJ’s own detention complex. At a time when falling crime rates have caused nonimmigrant federal detentions to plateau or fall, federal prison beds are being occupied by immigrants. So many immigrants are being channeled into the prisons of the U.S. Marshals Service (USMS) and the Federal Bureau of Prisons (BOP) – both DOJ agencies – that the OFDT trustee is seeking more federal funding, explicitly for immigrants. It’s all interrelated, as OFDT explains in its 2010 budget proposal. “The implementation of the Department of Homeland Security’s zero tolerance initiative, Operation Streamline, has substantially increased the number of immigration-related bookings at the Southwest Border,” says OFDT. OFDT notes that it “routinely anticipates growth in bookings for immigration offenses,” but “the growth observed since December 2005 has been unprecedented, based on trends in historical data.” As part of the president’s 2010 budget request, OFT is asking for an 11% increase in its $1.4 billion annual budget. Immigrant detainees are overwhelming OFDT’s capacity. In September 2008, immigrants composed 44% of all USMS detainees. In other words, nearly half of all the pre-trial detainees handled by U.S. Marshals were immigrants last year. If trends continue, as they are likely to do given the Bush-Obama continuity in immigration enforcement, then more than half of the detainees shackled by USMS will be immigrants. OFDT is having a hard time keeping up with the immigrant crackdown. In its 2009 budget it had projected 70,000 bookings for immigration offenses – a 13% increase over 2007. But if immigrant bookings continue at the current rate, OFDT projects that the number of immigrants booked in 2009 will be 96,000 – 26,000 more than it had projected in its budget request. OFDT says it needs a $44.6 million increase to “accommodate” the joint DHS/DOJ Southwest Border and Immigration Enforcement programs. “This program increase will support detention housing for an additional 7,000 immigration offenders apprehended by the DHS and processed by the USMS,” explains OFDT. In addition, ODFT is asking for a $95.8 million increase to sustain the USMS detention system’s operating costs, which will be strained in 2010 by “the increased costs associated with these law enforcement activities along with anticipated increases in per diem rates, medical hospital service costs, and fuel prices.” Border security and immigration enforcement have trumped fiscal responsibility at DOJ. Overall, DOJ is proposing, according to the Federal Times, a $1 billion budget increase for fiscal 2010 would help pay for 1,187 new agents and attorneys to help secure the Southwest border against drug smuggling and other criminal activity. At a time when the prospects for comprehensive immigration reform look dubious at best, the DOJ budget includes funding for what it calls “a comprehensive approach to enforcement along the Nation's borders.” This new comprehensive approach “combines law enforcement and prosecutorial component efforts to investigate, arrest, detain, and prosecute illegal immigrants and other criminals.” DHS Detention Adviser Says More Beds Dora Schriro, the new DHS special advisor on detention, isn’t talking fiscal responsibility. Rather, she told the Homeland Security Subcommittee of the House Appropriations Committee, that more money is needed for detention. Neither party is objecting that additional detention costs for immigrants will further overburden U.S. taxpayers. Schriro, who Napolitano appointed to advise her on detention and removal operations (DRO), told the House members, “DRO is likely to get larger and may cost more in the immediate future.” According to Schriro, ICE has “an average daily census approaching 33,400 detainees and an end-of-year count exceeding 400,000.” ICE plans to increase its detention capacity by 1,400 beds during FY 2009 and is seeking funding to add about 1,000 beds in FY 2010. It is also in the process of renegotiating inter-agency service agreements with the 100 largest state and local facilities with which it contracts. With no argument from either Democrats or Republicans, Schriro closed her testimony asserting, “We all recognize more than that needs to occur.” When it comes to the priority issues of border security and immigration enforcement, fiscal responsiblity apparently does not apply.
Photo: GEO's Val Verde Detention Center for immigrants in Del Rio, Texas