Janet Napolitano's "Secure Communities" Program Secure in Arizona, Elsewhere Not So Much

Three states have opted out of a federal immigration program that helps identify and deport illegal immigrants.
Three states have opted out of a federal immigration program that helps identify and deport illegal immigrants.

​Massachusetts is now the third state to opt out of a federal immigration program that helps identify illegal immigrants and turn them over to federal officials.

Governor Deval Patrick called it quits on the program, referred to as Secure Communities, about a week after New York did so. Illinois was the first to cut the program from its state in May, even though the federal government claims the program is mandatory once it starts.

Now that three are off the list, there are 39 states remaining in the program.

In an e-mail statement sent to New Times, U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcementspokesman Vincent Picard, stated that "because Secure Communities is fundamentally an information-sharing partnership between federal agencies, state and local jurisdictions cannot opt out from the program."

Recently, the Los Angeles Times reported that California Representative Zoe Lofgren called for an investigation of the U.S. Department of Homeland Security for not being completely honest about local jurisdictions having to participate in the immigration program.

"You can't have a government department essentially lying to local government and to members of Congress. This is not OK," Lofgren said in April.

The program started in 2008 under the Bush Administration. It was that same year, when Janet Napolitano, now U.S. Secretary of Homeland Security, was still Arizona's governor, that Pinal County joined Secure Communities, partnering with ICE to help identify illegal immigrants through fingerprint records.

It works like this: Local authorities fingerprint those in custody and match those records with those on file with DHS. If the person is undocumented, immigration officials take them under their jurisdiction and decide whether to deport them or not. 

As of now participating law enforcement agencies in Arizona have identified and deported 15,606 illegal immigrants through this program, according to ICE's stats.

Maricopa County, so far, has arrested and removed more illegal immigrants compared with the other counties in the state, totaling 13,823. Nationwide, though, 108,994 illegal immigrants have been deported through the program.

Those turned over to ICE are categorized by levels one through three depending on the severity of the crime committed. 

Those categorized level one are more likely to get deported, but as the number goes up they have more time to set up a legal-defense team. At any moment ICE can lower their level to prioritize their case, but it all depends on the seriousness of the crime.

Chris Newman, a lawyer from the National Day Laborer Organizing Network, stated that programs such as Secure Communities need to be "scrapped completely."

Newman says that anti-immigrant hawks such as Maricopa County Sheriff Joe Arpaio are examples of local authorities abusing federal immigration programs. Which is why he believes Secure Communities "has been a disaster."

A major concern for Newman is the separation of family members that occurs when low-level offenders are deported. Such "offenders" can include people stopped for a simple traffic misdemeanor. They might not even been charged with a crime, but just simply turned over to ICE.

He points out that this program let Arizona politicians believe that they could create their own immigration laws, the most infamous being Senate Bill 1070.

"Secure Communities created the political climate that led to SB 1070 in the first place," Newman says.

Perhaps, but knowing right-wing, immigrant-bashing Governor Jan Brewer and the popularity of SB 1070 in this state, Secure Communities should be secure in Arizona for some time to come.

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