Posted on 04-28-2011
Call for investigation into questionable ICE practices
By Mahwish Khan
On April 22, Rep. Zoe Lofgren (CA-16) asked that federal immigration officials be investigated, claiming that they misled local officials about whether counties and states had the right to opt out of the Secure Communities program.
According to the LA Times, a number of local jurisdictions have sought to opt out of the program or asked that their fingerprint data not be sent to U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement.
Federal officials initially told them they could do so, an assertion repeated by Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano and Assistant Atty. Gen. Ronald Weich in September letters to Lofgren.
But internal correspondence recently released to immigrant and civil rights groups in response to Freedom of Information Act litigation reveals that ICE officials had long known that the program was not voluntary.
A month after Lofgren received the letters, Napolitano held a news conference to clarify that local officials had no say in the program.
Lofgren, whose legal staff spent a week reviewing the internal documents, said she will seek a probe of whether Napolitano or ICE Director John Morton were aware of the strategy.
"It’s unacceptable and if she knew about it, something has to be done about her, and, if she didn’t, she has to do something about those who did," Lofgren said. "Clearly the people in the department were dissembling and deceiving."
Created in 2007, Secure Communities is an ICE-agency program designed to identify undocumented immigrants, prioritize them based on what kind of crime they’ve committed (if any), and process them for deportation. The program relies on local police officers to double as federal immigration enforcement, and utilizes fingerprint databases to identify potential criminals.
The problem? As the LA Times article said, “Recently released data show that half of the immigration holds issued since the inception of the Secure Communities program have been for non-criminals or those charged with misdemeanors -- not the violent criminals the program has purported to prioritize.”
But it's not only that.
The secure communities program is a key part of a GOP strategy to mass-deport the 11 million mostly-innocent undocumented immigrants in the United States (though the program was supposedly created to focus on criminals). More responsible police departments worry that involvement will make community policing harder. It also keeps undocumented immigrants in the shadows, and discourages them from reporting crime. Moreover, it's another two steps back for an administration that has vowed to fix our broken immigration system.
As for ICE, what more can we expect from an agency that has agents who stake-out elementary schools and strip-search mothers in front of their children? This is just further proof that ICE is a rogue agency, that DHS needs to rethink immigration policy, and that the administration needs to focus less on immigration enforcement and more on finding solutions that actually work.