‘Secure Communities’ rhetoric versus reality

Under the Obama administration,
immigrants have been under attack possibly more than ever before.
Immigration and Customs Enforcement, a division of the Department of
Homeland Security, is deporting people at record levels, and
continues to initiate removal proceedings with impunity. The rhetoric
is that ICE “priorities” are about “community safety,” not
separating families. But this rhetoric is belied by the reality of
hundreds of thousands of immigrants being deported every year, not
for serious or violent crimes but simply for being an undocumented
immigrant worker in the United States.

One enforcement program, Secure
Communities, has been a strong weapon in the war on immigrants. The
program uses technology to link the FBI biometric database with the
DHS biometric database. Every time a local police officer runs a
person’s fingerprint data following an arrest, the information is sent to the FBI and run against their database.
But for jurisdictions participating in Secure Communities, fingerprints will also go to ICE. This is true regardless of whether the person who has been
arrested is a foreign national or not. If ICE also has the person’s
fingerprints on file (and fingerprints are kept on file for many
reasons), ICE is notified to examine the person’s immigration file
and determine whether to initiate deportation proceedings. As a
result, deportation proceedings have become even more common.

The program is racist to the core. It
deploys a special armed police force against immigrants for minor
violations such as driving without a license. In fact, because the fingerprint check is done following arrest, as opposed to after a conviction, even someone who is eventually found innocent or whose charges are dropped may be deported under the program. It is common that
immigrants who are lawfully applying for visas come to ICE’s
attention for deportation through roadblocks or simply being in the
wrong place at the wrong time. When the local police submit the
biometrics information for a check, even a lawful visa applicant may
show a hit. The program encourages racial profiling and a greater
“crackdown” on immigrant communities.

Since the beginning of Secure
Communities in 2008, there has been fight-back. Many immigrant
communities no longer believe that the Obama administration will hold
true to its promise of reform. Since 2008, Obama has expanded Secure
Communities to jurisdictions in 42 states.

‘Nation of immigrants’ or increased
attacks on immigrants

Now seeking re-election in 2012, Obama
laid out his plan for immigration reform in a speech in El Paso,
Texas, on May 10. With American flags blowing behind him, he declared
America to be a nation of immigrants. He decried current immigration
policy for turning away “the best and the brightest” immigrants
from around the world. He reinforced his prioritization of border
enforcement and deportation, yet painted a picture of a kinder and
gentler immigration system that would value the contributions of
immigrant communities.

Even in a speech of great promises,
Obama, an executive of the corporate ruling elites, relied on the
age-old tactic of dividing workers to explain the special oppression
of immigrants. He claimed that undocumented immigrant labor puts
“middle-class families” and small business at a “disadvantage.”
He claimed that immigrant workers were the lawbreakers, and needed to
take responsibility. Of course he never addressed the trillions of
dollars in corporate welfare that this administration has doled out
to banks that throw people out of their homes. He also never
addressed the economic reasons for immigration itself, or the human
rights of families torn apart by immigration policies.

Present federal immigration policy
means that billions of dollars each year are dedicated to attacking
immigrant families rather than treating them equally or fairly. Any
widespread reform or amnesty that immigrants win, therefore, will be
the direct result of the strength of the immigrant rights struggle,
and the broader working-class struggle in which immigrants have
become a more prominent force.

For example, even in the face of
widespread opposition to the Secure Communities program, DHS has made
Secure Communities mandatory. It has insisted on rolling out the
program across the country by 2013.

Illinois wants to opt out of
allegedly non-mandatory program

On May 4, Illinois Gov. Pat Quinn’s
office, in response to growing and vocal opposition to Secure
Communities, sent a letter to the acting assistant director of Secure
Communities. He informed the government that Illinois was “opting
out” of the program. The letter provided the contractually
necessary notice of termination of the Secure Communities memorandum
of understanding from Illinois State Police.

Illinois is not the only jurisdiction
attempting to opt out. Some local police departments, including
Arlington, Va., and San Francisco and Santa Clara, Calif., have also
tried to opt out. There have also been legislative opt-out measures
in California and Illinois.

Illinois State Police began its
memorandum of understanding implementing Secure Communities in
November 2009. DHS originally promoted participation
in Secure Communities as voluntary, putting out the idea that Secure
Communities is not based on a mandate from Congress; rather it is an
optional program that DHS chooses to employ. But when localities
began trying to opt out last summer, DHS changed its tune. It
embarked on a public relations campaign aimed at convincing local law
enforcement that increased partnership on immigration enforcement was
in their interest. In the end, DHS redefined the term “opt-out,”
insisting that it will be mandatory for the fingerprint data to be

In its opt-out letter, Illinois State
Police confirmed that Secured Communities targets immigrants not
based on their level of “danger” but based on their race alone.
More than 30 percent of those deported under the program have no
criminal convictions.More than 80 percent of those deported have
never been convicted of a felony or violent crime.

DHS held its position in response to
Gov. Quinn’s letter. Director of ICE John Moton traveled to
Springfield to speak to Quinn about the letter, maintaining that the
program was mandatory. DHS’s Office of the Inspector General is now
paying lip service to the backlash against the program by
investigating cost, data collection and how the program is being

There can be no kinder,
gentler version of Secure Communities. This enforcement program
panders to the right-most sector of the ruling class, who would like
to paint immigrants as dangerous criminals. Any party that speaks out
of one side of its mouth about a nation of immigrants and then pours
nearly $60 billion into the ICE bureaucracy, most of which goes
toward enforcement, can never be trusted to institute true justice or

The immigrant rights movement
must continue its independent struggle, along with labor unions and
all workers, for equal rights and justice. Bureaucrats and elected
officials should not be left with the power to decide the fates of
hundreds of thousands of immigrant families. As politicians haggle
over details of deportation programs, we should build a movement in
the streets that demands real change.


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