For months, protesters have rallied
outside of the governor’s office in New York, demanding that the
state withdraw from the Secure Communities program. Under
the program, the fingerprints of every person booked by the police
are checked against Department of Homeland Security databases for
immigration status. Currently active in 42 states, Secure
Communities has led to the deportation of tens of thousands of
immigrants—nearly 80 percent of whom had no convictions or were
only charged with minor offenses.
Because of the opposition to Secure
Communities, New York Governor Andrew Cuomo announced June 1 that New
York would suspend participation. According to Cuomo, the program
only discourages immigrant victims of crime from contacting the
police and assisting in investigations. New York is the second state
that has attempted to withdraw from the program that the Obama
administration now maintains is mandatory, and wants to expand to the
whole country by 2013.
In May, Illinois Governor Pat Quinn
suspended the program. In response, ICE announced that fingerprint
data would continue to be shared between the FBI and DHS under
federal legislation passed after Sept. 11, 2001. Local law
enforcement agencies routinely share fingerprint data with the FBI.
Additionally, Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano now
asserts that participation is mandatory, despite initially telling
states that it was voluntary, and that individual counties could opt
out as well .
The Obama administration now admits that it misled states as to the
nature of the program and whether it was voluntary.
New York’s announcement spurred other
victories around the country. Massachusetts Governor Deval Patrick
announced on June 6 that the state would not participate, followinga
series of public forums and a pilot program that showed that more
than half of those deported were never convicted of a crime .
Maryland and San Francisco are attempting to opt out as well, and the
California and Illinois legislatures are considering bills that would
allow counties to opt out.
Despite these gains, the right-wing,
racist backlash continues. A recent bill introduced in Texas, SB 9,
would make participation mandatory. It further attacks “sanctuary
cities” by denying state grants and funding to localities that
prohibit local law enforcement from asking about immigration status.
Moreover, Congress increased funding for Secure Communities in its
We can win the fight against Secure
Communities. Secure Communities is an effort to intensify the war on
immigrants by trying to drive a wedge between immigrant and citizen
workers. It tries to paint immigrants as dangerous criminals. But
this strategy has failed.
While the struggle for immigrant rights
and equality is far broader than this narrow enforcement program, the
success of immigrants in pushing politicians to terminate Secure
Communities shows what independent action can do. Let us stay in the
streets and make our demands clear: Stop the deportations! End Secure
Communities! Equal rights for immigrants now!