Immigration: Feds agree Secure Communities needs fixing
The Obama administration Friday announced changes to Secure Communities, a controversial program that requires state and local law enforcement to submit the fingerprints of everyone arrested to the Department of Homeland Security.
In recent months, the program has faced mounting criticism from immigrant and civil rights group as well as elected officials, who say it has failed to target criminals for deportation, and instead has resulted in the removal of undocumented immigrants with no criminal record.
John Morton, the head of Immigration and Customs Enforcement, the agency in charge of deportations, said the modifications will ensure the program targets criminals.
The proposed changes look good, at least on paper. Among other things, Morton's memo instructs government’s attorneys to exercise prosecutorial discretion, especially in cases involving victims of and witnesses to crimes.
Morton also calls for the creation of a committee comprised of law enforcement to deal with complaints that Secure Communities jeopardizes community policing efforts, especially in immigrant communities.
The problem is that Homeland Security has a history of issuing memos and instructions to immigration agents that then go unheeded.
For example, earlier this year Immigration and Customs Enforcement officials were forced to investigate complaints that their agents surrounded a school in Detroit in search of undocumented immigrants. Parents and immigrant-rights groups said the agents created panic among some parents and students, according to published reports. Such a move would be a direct violation of a policy that forbids enforcement operations near schools.
And the agency’s own union has publicly come out against Morton, accusing him of not being tough enough on illegal immigrants. Last June, the head of the Immigration and Customs Enforcement Union, comprised of agents and other employees, said its members cast a vote of no confidence in Morton.
Nearly 400,000 immigrants were deported last year by the Obama administration. That far exceeds the number deported in any given year during George W. Bush’s administration. The union’s claims seem to ignore that reality and the limits on the number of immigrants the government has the resources to remove.
Morton's memo does offer specific steps and details to improve Secure Communities.The question now is, will the rank and file follow the rules?
-- Sandra Hernandez
Photo: U.S. Customs and Border Protection, part of the Department of Homeland Security, handles customs checks. Credit: Stephen Chernin / Getty Images