Almost a year and a half after Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) announced an internal civil rights review of its high-profile federal immigration enforcement program, the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) has revealed that the results are not forthcoming. A DHS official recently stated that data collection challenges have delayed conclusions about whether the Secure Communities program empowers local law enforcement agencies to engage in racial profiling.
Secure Communities was announced in 2008 as a means to help ICE prioritize removal proceedings for undocumented immigrants with criminal records who threaten public safety, as well as repeat violators of U.S. immigration laws. DHS has implemented the program in more than 3,000 jurisdictions and expects to expand it to the entire country sometime in 2013.
A 2011 study by the Earl Warren Institute on Law and Social Policy at the University of California, Berkeley Law School, provided some troubling findings about the results of Secure Communities immigration enforcement to that point:
· Latino individuals had comprised 93 percent of all arrests despite the fact that they make up only 77 percent of the undocumented immigrant population
· Barely half of those arrested through the program are allowed a hearing before an immigration judge
· Nearly 40 percent of those arrested under Secure Communities enforcement report having a spouse or child who is a U.S. citizen
Many jurisdictions have expressed resistance to participation, including the California Legislature. However, the TRUST Act, which detailed limits to Secure Communities cooperation, was vetoed by Gov. Jerry Brown.
In response to resistance to Secure Communities in some areas, DHS announced that participation is compulsory and that states and localities will not be allowed to opt out. The draconian nature of this federal mandate makes it all the more important that the program complies with accepted legal standards of civil rights.
Options for undocumented immigrants who face deportation and removal
Secure Communities has the full force of the federal government behind it, and one more troubling statistic from the Berkeley study reveals that less than a quarter of those arrested via the program had legal representation at their immigration hearings. An immigration attorney can help immigrants explore effective strategies such as a motion for a new deportation hearing.
For young immigrants who do not have criminal records, significant recent developments under the Obama Administration’s Deferred Action program can provide a reprieve from deportation proceedings and a path to employment authorization. A deportation and removal defense lawyer can explain the likelihood for success under this and many other provisions of U.S. immigration law.