Subhash Kateel, of the Florida Immigrant Coalition, calls Florida a “testing ground for Immigration and Customs Enforcement programs.” For evidence, he points to the state’s embrace of Section 287(g) — a provision in federal law that allows state and local law enforcement agencies to “perform immigration law enforcement functions” — and to the Florida Department of Law Enforcement’s implementation of ICE’s Secure Communities program — a fingerprint-sharing system that grants local law enforcement agencies access to FBI criminal history records and Department of Homeland Security immigration records as part of the effort to identify and remove criminal aliens from the United States.
Secure Communities is controversial, though. Not all of Florida’s law enforcement agencies are enthusiastic about enforcing immigration law, statistics provided by ICE raise questions about how effective the Secure Communities system is at identifying and removing major criminals, and immigration and civil rights activists say they’re “skeptical” of the program.
ICE developed Secure Communities after Congress provided funding in 2008 for DHS and ICE to improve efforts to identify “aliens convicted of a crime, sentenced to imprisonment, and who may be deportable, and remove them from the United States once they are judged deportable.” ICE plans to have Secure Communities in place around the country by 2013.
Law enforcement agencies across the U.S. do not have a unified position on whether they should enforce immigration law. In 2009, then-Miami Police Chief John Timoney joined a nationwide effort to demand that President Obama terminate 287(g).
“Any initiative to involve local police agencies in the enforcement of immigration laws should be an incentive based approach with full federal funding to provide the necessary resources to the local agencies that choose to enforce immigration laws,” the Major Cities Chiefs Police Association states.
The MCCPA also says that it “and other representatives of the local law enforcement community such as the International Association of Chiefs of Police and local district attorneys and prosecutors should be consulted and brought in at the beginning of any process to develop a national initiative to involve local police agencies in the enforcement of federal immigration laws.”
The National Sheriffs Association, though, issued a resolution this month supporting Secure Communities and 287(g).
In June, the Florida Department of Law Enforcement and ICE announced that all 67 of Florida’s counties are now linked to Secure Communities.
The Florida Independent asked Nicole Navas, an ICE spokesperson in the agency’s Miami office, why Secure Communities was implemented in all 67 counties at once, and whether ICE worked with local law enforcement agencies to secure their support for Secure Communities. She asked for written questions; TFI is waiting for ICE to respond.
An ICE document shows that other states with large immigrant populations have very few counties committed to Secure Communities. New York, New Jersey, Illinois and Colorado have no agreements in place.
Navas told TFI Secure Communities was launched in the border states, but only 36 percent of counties in California, 47 percent in Arizona and 52 percent in Texas have implemented the program.
FDLE spokesperson Heather Smith called her office “the technology conduit for Secure Communities” in Florida, but deferred questions about the program to ICE: “ICE is the lead agency and can answer questions about Secure Communities.”
We spoke with the Collier County Sheriff’s Office to gauge its experience with 287(g) and Secure Communities. TFI also asked for funding data and information about those detained through these programs, but local law enforcement cannot give out data without the consent of ICE.
Secure Communities, like 287(g), classifies criminals into three levels to determine the danger they pose to the community. Level I criminals are people charged with and/or convicted of crimes like murder, rape, kidnapping and major drug trafficking.
ICE data from October 2008 through September 2009 shows that 1,471 Level I criminals were removed from the U.S. More than 12,000 Level II and III criminals were removed. (You can read or download the data and other related documents in full below.)
Yet an April 2009 ICE document highlighting Secure Communities’ media plan states, “Since its inception in October 2008, Secure Communities has identified more than 18,000 aliens charged with or convicted of Level 1 crimes, such as murder, rape and kidnapping — 4,000 of whom have already been removed from the United States.”
Another talking point laid out in the ICE memos says that, “Secure Communities is not about immigration. It’s about information sharing with local law enforcement agencies so they have all the facts about the people in their jails.”
“Secure Communities flags people for immigration status at the point of arrest, many of whom have not yet been convicted,” Kateel says. “It will be applied all over the country but will have a larger impact in big cities, where people get arrested for all kinds of petty violations.”
In our interview with Navas she explained that Secure Communities is race-neutral because it only shares fingerprints.
But the Center for Constitutional Rights has stated, “Although ICE presents Secure Communities as an innocuous information sharing program, it seems designed to function as a dragnet to funnel even more people into the already mismanaged ICE detention and removal system.”
In April the CCR, the National Day Laborer Organization Network and the Immigration Justice Clinic of the Benjamin N. Cardozo School of Law filed a Freedom of Information Act complaint for information pertaining to Secure Communities.
Other immigration activists, organized labor, the National Black Police Association, the NAACP and the ACLU supported the action.
On June 30 ICE issued a memo that “outlines the civil immigration enforcement priorities of U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) as they relate to the apprehension, detention, and removal of aliens. These priorities shall apply across all ICE programs and shall inform enforcement activity, detention decisions, budget requests and execution and strategic planning.”
The CCR responded, “The priorities outlined indicate a shift in focus from pre-conviction removals to post-conviction removals. While the memo appears to narrow the scope of this ICE program that further involves local and state law enforcement agencies in federal immigration enforcement, rights groups are skeptical.”