Op-Ed: 'Secure Communities' deportation program breeds mistrust among immigrants
The following Op-ed was written by AFSC's Amy Gottlieb, program director of the Immigrant Rights Program in Newark. It was first published March 30, 2012 by NJ.com.
U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement dramatically expanded the scope of immigration enforcement in New Jersey last month without any public announcement or notice to state officials. To the surprise of many, ICE quietly activated its so-called Secure Communities program Feb. 22 in all 21 New Jersey counties.
Last year, New Jersey residents and advocates sent more than 3,000 letters to Gov. Chris Christie, urging him not to sign up for Secure Communities — technology that notifies federal authorities of deportable immigrants in local jails — if ICE came calling. The governor’s office wisely heeded the call and New Jersey stayed away from the program.
Until now. On its own, ICE has moved forward with its plan to implement Secure Communities nationwide, whether or not there is agreement or acquiescence from local and state officials.
ICE has been stalking the halls of New Jersey courts and New Jersey county jails for years. Its new target? Any and all immigrants charged with any crime — no matter how minor the charge, whether the charges are dismissed, whether the individual has extensive family and community ties in the state, whether the person has been in the United States for most of his life.
All New Jersey residents should be concerned about the unilateral implementation of this controversial program. Under S-Comm, a noncitizen is just one encounter with law enforcement away from being labeled a “criminal alien” and sent into a Byzantine — and broken — detention and deportation system for removal from the United States.
Notwithstanding its name, S-Comm doesn’t make New Jersey any more secure. Indeed, because of the wide net it casts, S-Comm has been criticized for making communities less secure.
Law enforcement leaders, including former Manhattan District Attorney Robert Morgenthau and San Francisco Sheriff Michael Hennessey, oppose the program for undermining policing strategies and making immigrants even more reluctant to work with authorities to report and solve crimes. Last year, the governors of Illinois, New York and Massachusetts demanded to opt out of S-Comm for this reason. Cities and counties nationwidehave demanded an out.
S-Comm does provide additional tools for police seeking to harass, intimidate or drive out immigrant communities. Because ICE identification and potential deportation are triggered by an arrest by local police — not a conviction — the program has the ability to facilitate discriminatory profiling and civil rights abuses. No wonder the Obama administration has delayed full activation of S-Comm in Alabama, where the Department of Justice is suing to prevent implementation of a state law criminalizing a variety of everyday activities by undocumented immigrants.
Despite these serious problems and objections, the administration has pressed ahead with the nationwide rollout of S-Comm. In addition to New Jersey, ICE activated the program in Connecticut last month and plans to cover the country by next year.
As UCLA law professor Hiroshi Motomura has observed, the discretion to arrest is the discretion that matters. Who gets arrested and how they are funneled into the detention and deportation system reflect our true enforcement priorities.
That’s the problem with S-Comm as a program that exponentially increases the numbers and types of people who end up in deportation proceedings.
New Jersey is one of the most diverse states in the nation, ranking sixth in the number of foreign-born residents. Programs such as S-Comm create fear and distrust, leading residents to avoid any contact with local police for fear of being reported to immigration authorities, even where they are victims or witnesses to a crime. Sending residents of New Jersey into a complex immigration system that may lead to permanent separation from family members creates fragile, less secure communities.
S-Comm’s premise is fundamentally flawed. New Jersey residents should demand our state leaders and our representatives in Washington call for the end of S-Comm to keep us all safer and to keep our families and communities intact. In its place, we need humane policies that treat all individuals with dignity and respect, and that truly ensure our safety and security.