Expanding Immigration Checks at Local Jails May Not Be as Benign as It Sounds
The continued expansion of the so-called “Secure Communities” program, which sends the fingerprints of suspects booked at local jails to the federal immigration authorities to check immigration status, could have troubling consequences, immigration advocates say.
The Washington Post’s story today on the program, started last year by the Bush administration, says the initiative aims to target people convicted of serious crimes and arrange for their deportation after they’ve completed their sentences. But by sending the fingerprints of everyone booked into a local jail immediately to the Immigration and Customs Enforcement division of the Department of Homeland Security, there’s a real danger that ICE could swoop in to initiate removal proceedings against immigrants who are never convicted of any crimes at all.
“It’s deceptively benign,” says Joan Friedland, Immigration Policy Director at the National Immigration Law Center.
Friedland and other advocates have good cause to worry. Other programs aimed at catching criminal aliens, such as the 287(g) program, which deputizes local law enforcement to enforce federal immigration laws, have led to racial profiling and deportation of undocumented immigrants picked up for such minor infractions as traffic violations.
It’s not clear yet whether the Secure Communities program will have similar problems, but “because of how other programs have operated you’d think you’d want something in place when this one starts to prevent its abuse,” says Friedland.
So far, there aren’t any such safeguards on the program. In fact, the program so far doesn’t even have internal regulations governing how ICE or local authorities should implement it.