Secure Communities is a federally funded program designed to aid in identifying undocumented criminals in order to deport them out of the United States. Essentially, what it does, is require that anyone who passes through the hands of law enforcement has to be checked within the ICE and FBI databases to see if they have committed other crimes, and to see if they are documented. However, the debate has risen as to whether this program is actually targeting dangerous criminals. Deportations are higher than they have ever been, with four times more deportations per year under Obama than under the Bush administration. Yet who are we really deporting?
Secure Communities is problematic for plenty of reasons, but in particular I find it worrying because it breeds fear of the law among undocumented people living in the U.S. Through this program, anyone who comes into contact with law enforcement is at risk of being checked, and probably will be.This means that if someone is being hurt, they will probably not call police help, for fear they will be deported. What immediately comes to my mind are Latinas who are being abused by their partners, already much less likely to call the police than an English-speaking white woman who is aware of the resources available to her. If this Latina knows that by calling the police, she may be deported, she might never leave her abusive partner.
And besides this, the establishment of Secure Communities seems to suggest that undocumented immigrants are more likely to be criminals than citizens. First of all, according to this ACLU article, living in the U.S. without documents is not actually a crime. But more importantly, “U.S.-born men are institutionalized for crimes at a rate ten times higher than that of foreign-born men in California.” Think about it. If someone risked their lives to cross the border and has been working their butt off in order to support their family back home, do you think they would take the risk of being deported back home? Undocumented immigrants don’t go through all that trouble just to come over here and make trouble, they are here to work.
Right now Secure Communities is somewhat optional, though it is on the road to being nationally-implemented. California, Massachusetts and Illinois are currently trying to opt-out of the program (which is interesting considering that California has one of the highest number of submissions of any state, and the highest number of deportations).
However, regardless of the racist implications of this program, it is also costing our country tons of money that could be better allocated. Secure Communities provides the structure, but not complete funding for the proceedings required in order to make it function. As officers are required to submit fingerprints of any arrestee suspected to be undocumented, the arrestee must remain in custody until they have been checked. If they are found to be undocumented, they are kept in the jail until ICE comes to get them. However, the ACLU article notes that:
“ICE provides limited reimbursement only for immigrant detainees who have been convicted of one felony or two misdemeanor offenses and who are held for at least 4 consecutive days. Therefore, available reimbursements do not cover the actual costs of holding pre-conviction immigration detainees. In Sacramento County, screening and arraignment, including pretrial jail booking and incarceration, averaged $1,948 per arrestee in 2005 and 2006.”
Though minor changes are being proposed for the program after widespread public outcry, this program needs to be stopped. We could be spending money on Immigration Reform, or supporting education, or anything else but this. Let’s stop criminalizing those who are for the most part seeking economic refuge, those who on average spend more money in taxes than a citizen. Those who support our labor force like no other group does. Those who are equally human and deserving of “the pursuit of happiness” as we are.
This PBS piece helps to broaden on the logistics of the program: