US Catholic Faith in Real Life

Securing communities from what?

Father Tom Joyce CMF | Print this pagePrint | Email this pageShare

One of my favorite TV programs, The Good Wife, had a story last week of a middle-aged undocumented Mexican arrested as a suspect only because he was near the site of a burglary. The family scrambled to get him out on bail before his name and fingerprints got into “the system.” Once there the information would be compared with a database of the Immigration and Customs Enforcement of Homeland Security. If the computer coughed up his name, ICE would be visiting and extract him from the holding pen and process him for deportation.

I don’t know if the system works just that way, but the story did depict a real problem with ICE’s Secure Communities program. The program, a little more than two years old, has been a favorite of the Obama administration and been used to show the public how hard it is on dangerous criminal aliens. It also boosts the rate of deportations.

More have been deported in these last two years under Obama than in the final years under Bush. The factory raids may have decline – though not entirely disappeared – and the president has stressed that he’s going after hardened criminals and employers exploiting immigrant workers. In appearance on Unavision, the Spanish cable channel, listeners called in complaining that his stepped-up rate of deportation is corralling too many here only to make a living for themselves and their families.

Secure Communities seems only to be saving the community from busboys and gardeners, according to an immigration lawyer. In Illinois, where 26 out of 102 counties are in the program, 78 percent of those detained by ICE under the program have no convictions or at most only minor offenses. Florida had similar results. Being an innocent by-stander at an apprehension can get an undocumented a ride out of the country via deportation. ICE recently swept up 160 aliens in Northern Virginia – most previously convicted of a crime or having reenter the country after deportation, but 30 had no criminal record or offense.

Now it has been revealed through a freedom-of-information request that ICE is quite confused internally about how to run the program, is trying to get the sanctuary city of Chicago and Cook County to implement the program fully as a model for the rest of the country, and intends to make the program compulsory for all law-enforcement jurisdictions by 2012. The project hasn't been going well for ICE.

Illinois sheriffs are reluctant to be more cooperative, since it takes officers away from other law enforcement or jail guards away from their duties. Besides it generates additional costs that the city and county – both in serious budget crunches. At a press conference called by the Illinois Coalition for Immigrant and Refugee Rights, some sheriffs expressed their displeasure and unwillingness to cooperate. They were under the impression that Secure Communities was voluntary and so resent ICE's pressure. The New York Times speculates that even the agency doesn't know whether it is or is not voluntary.

At the same ICIRR press conference, a campaign was kick off to promote a state response to Secure Communities – the Smart Enforcement Act. This would enable unwilling counties to opt out of the program, require counties that do participate to report certain information on immigrants flagged by it, and bar use of state funds to deport immigrants not convicted of a crime.