Institute for Justice and Democracy in Haiti

When An Immigration “Reform\” Turns \”officer Friendly” Into A Potential Deportation Agent.

By Posted by Doug Lyons on July 24, 2009 07:32 AM|July 24, 2009

By Susana Barciela

Janet Napolitano?s Department of Homeland Security (DHS) is trying to put a kinder, gentler face on immigration enforcement, and to their credit DHS honchos are reaching out to immigration advocates — “stakeholders” in the DHS parlance — in a rarely seen way.

Nationwide, the secretary and some of her top advisors have listened to numerous complaints ? everything from appalling medical care in immigration detention to the separation of families after raids. Still, enforcement policy has a long way to go to reflect America?s values as a nation of laws and immigrants. Consider two recent developments.

First, on July 10, Secretary Napolitano announced an updated 287(g) program. Under this program, local police sign agreements with DHS permitting their officers to enforce immigration laws. The Florida Department of Law Enforcement (FDLE) was the first agency nationwide to sign up in 2002. The agreement specifically designated FDLE to address terrorist and domestic-security threats.

Secretary Napolitano touted the ?improved? 287(g) program in the press release: ?This new agreement supports local efforts to protect public safety by giving law enforcement the tools to identify and remove dangerous criminal aliens.?

Immigration advocates quickly begged to differ. ?Reviewing every single agreement that ICE has entered into with local cops and jailers is long overdue, but extending the program to new jurisdictions at the same time is unwise,? said the the National Immigration Forum.

The ACLU weighed in with a deservedly harsh assessment: “The new standardized MOA makes no serious attempt at discouraging illegal racial profiling or reducing the conflict between sound community policing principles and the expansion of this program,” said Omar Jadwat, staff attorney with the ACLU Immigrants’ Rights Project. “[DHS] has claimed that the new MOA contains many significant improvements, but now that we actually have the document, it is clear that many of the claimed changes are really not changes at all, that the remaining changes have little or no positive operative effect.?

The New York Times also took aim at DHS for expanding the 287(g) program that most police chiefs and sheriffs oppose.

The critics have good reason: When people in immigrant-rich communities view local police as immigration agents, public safety is jeopardized. Who is going to report a crime, or cooperate as a witness, when they or a loved one might be deported for doing a good deed?

Another DHS enforcement program called ?Secure Communities? suffers from the same problem. Launched late last year, the program supposedly is designed to ?identify the most dangerous criminal aliens.?? But the fingerprints of those arrested by local police for any reason, including minor traffic infractions, are screened against the ICE database at booking. Whatever happened to innocent until proven guilty?

If the target really were dangerous criminals, ICE would run cross-checks only after conviction. The proof is in ICE?s own data: Less than 10 percent of the 53,800 immigrants flagged by Secure Communities were classified as ?the most dangerous criminals.??

So much for targeting the most dangerous criminals. This is how scarce resources are spent to snare people who run red lights or drive without a license.

South Floridians should beware: Secure Communities is in effect in Miami Dade now, and will start up in Broward next year. Fundamentally, DHS?s 287(g) and Secure Communities lead to anything but secure communities. The programs invite racial profiling among other abuses. Law-abiding folks lose faith and trust in officer friendly when DHS turns him or her into a potential deportation agent. That can only hurt community policing and public safety.

Susana Barciela, whose picture graces this post, is a regular contributor to this blog. She has had a long interest in immigration matters. She is currently the Policy Director for the Florida Immigrant Advocacy Center in Miami and before that an editorial writer with The Miami Herald.

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