The U.S. Immigration and Custom's Enforcement agency has taken much criticism for its "Secure Communities" initiative, where participating local police departments give immigration officials access to the fingerprints of people brought into its jails.
"This is it?" Assemblyman Tom Ammiano, of San Francisco, said in a statement released yesterday. "Frankly, I'm glad I didn't hold my breath. Today's announcement will do absolutely nothing to repair the tremendous damage which S-Comm has caused to public safety and local governments."
The goal of Secure Communities is straightforward: streamline the databases of local police departments and immigration officials to help immigration officials find the Type of People We Want to Deport, namely the criminals. Or, as ICE states on its website: S-Comm "facilitates ICE's ability to identify and remove aliens who pose a threat to public safety." The problem, however, is that under the policy, the pool of possible "threats to public safety" includes every person who gets fingerprinted in jail.
ICE notes that 45 percent of total deportations in fiscal year 2011 involved people who were not convicted of a felony nor a misdemeanor. According to the DHS, which oversees ICE, 29 percent of S-Comm deportations had no more than a misdemeanor conviction, and 26 percent had no criminal convictions besides immigration violations.
To better channel resources toward serious offenders, ICE cited in its response to the DHS task force a June 2011 memo, "Civil Immigration Enforcement: Priorities for the Apprehension, Detention, and Removal of Aliens," which stresses the value of "prosecutorial discretion." The memo basically reiterates that "Because the agency is confronted with more violations than its resources can address, the agency must regularly exercise 'prosecutorial discretion' if it is to prioritize its efforts." Then it lists more than a dozen factors to consider, such as whether the person went to college, how long the person has been in America, whether the person has kids, whether the person has a relative who has served in the military.
This discretion remains in the hands of ICE, and not the police officers who have to manage the hesitant witness or console the victim or go back into the community to seek cooperation. Yet critics of the program note that it is the cops who face the community's anger over controversial deportations. In September, former Sacramento Police Chief Arturo Benegas Jr. resigned from the S-Comm task force, saying that because of the policy, "Immigrants will continue to fear that contact with the police could lead to deportation, crimes will go unreported, and criminals will remain free to prey on others."
To this point, ICE's reforms release cited another June 2011 memo stating:
To avoid deterring individuals from reporting crime and from pursuing actions to protect their civil rights, ICE officers, specials agents, and attorneys are reminded to exercise all appropriate discretion on a case by case by case basis when making detention and enforcement decisions in the cases of victims of crimes, and individuals perusing legitimate civil rights complaints.
But Ammiano and other immigration advocates argue that the recitation of these memos aren't enough.
"ICE mostly papers over even those recommendations, citing memos which it had issued even before the taskforce was convened and trumpeting such "changes" as updates to its website, changes in paperwork, and new videos," he said.