WASHINGTON - John Morton, director of Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE), has announced changes to the embattled immigration-enforcement program Secure Communities, which allows local law enforcement agencies to check the fingerprints of people they arrest with FBI and Department of Homeland Security databases to make sure they are not undocumented criminals.
Rights groups say proposed tweaks to the program are "Too little too late."
The Center for Constitutional Rights, Detention Watch Network (DWN), Rights Working Group (RWG), National Day Laborer Organizing Network and the National Immigration Project rejected ICE's announcement of minor changes to the immigration enforcement program that has come under fire by communities nationwide that say it undermines public safety, invites racial profiling and fails in meetings ICE’s own objectives by funneling non-citizens into what groups say is a dangerous detention and deportation system.
Just this month, states like New York, Massachusetts and Illinois and other localities announced their refusal to participate in the controversial program.
The coalition says it is encouraged that ICE appears to be responding to the broad public outcry against Secure Communities, but say ICE’s appointment of a commission to inquire into abuses will do nothing to address the program’s underlying dysfunction; rather, groups say these cosmetic changes only mask the dangers of rolling out a program unfettered by meaningful oversight and accountability.
“These changes are nowhere near sufficient to address the well-documented problems with the Secure Communities program that has thus far torn apart countless families across the country by funneling people into a detention and deportation system rife with abuse,” said Andrea Black, Executive Director of Detention Watch Network . “ The flaws with Secure Communities run so deep that the only solution is termination of the program.”
“We are stunned by the inadequacy of this announcement. Reform before review not only puts the cart before the horse, it continues to take the country in the wrong direction,” said Paromita Shah, Associate Director of the National Immigration Project . “ICE should listen to our elected leaders rather than ramming this federal program down the throats of localities that want nothing to do with it.”
“When federal auditors and inspectors are ignored, as th ey were with the 287(g) program, one has to wonder what good an ’advisory’ committee will do here,” said Retired Chief of the Sacramento Police Department and Current Project Director of the Law Enforcement Engagement Initiative Arturo Venegas . “Advice given is not required to be taken! You have three governors and umpteen chiefs of police and sheriffs telling you there are major problems with the program and that they want out. How much heavyweight advice do you need?”
Ongoing Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) litigation by the Center for Constitutional Rights, the National Day Laborer Organizing Network and the Immigration Justice Clinic of the Benjamin N. Cardozo School of Law has uncovered a vast, sophisticated biometrics system that is largely unregulated, and some experts say the program infringes on the constitutionally-protected privacy rights of U.S. citizens.
“Secure Communities is a Frankenstein program – and no amount of makeup can help save our communities from its ravaging effects,” said Pablo Alvarado, Director of the National Day Laborer Organizing Network . “Secure Communities is a symbol of President Obama’s approach to immigration – more spin than substance. Nothing less than a cancellation of the program could move this administration towards repairing the trust it has lost with Latino communities across the country.”
“ICE is simply putting lipstick on a pig. The civil rights and privacy issues triggered by the implementation of Secure Communities are just the tip of the iceberg,” said Sunita Patel, Center for Constitutional Rights staff attorney . “Our litigation has revealed the possibility of a much larger Big Brother scheme taking root – every community in the country may soon be fighting violations of our due process rights.”
“This Administration can no longer continue standing by Secure Communities,” said Margaret Huang, Executive Director of Rights Working Group . “By continuing to support the program it is sanctioning racial profiling, eroding the trust local law enforcement agencies have built with communities of color and signaling to the international community that our immigration system does not respect the basic human rights of all persons in our country.”
Among the coalition’s demands, it is calling on the Obama administration to:
• Publicly oppose and terminate all programs that create partnerships between state and local law enforcement and the Department of Homeland Security;
• Halt the development of the vast data gathering infrastructure that houses Secure Communities and inform the public of the current scope and purpose of its data collection and dissemination activities; and
• Allow state and local jurisdictions to opt-out of Secure Communities.