John Morton, director of Immigration and Customs Enforcement (aka ICE), announced Friday changes to the embattled immigration-enforcement program Secure Communities, which allows local law enforcement agencies to check the fingerprints of people they arrest with FBI and Department of Homeland Security databases to make sure they are not undocumented criminals.

A press release issued Friday by ICE says that “Secure Communities has proven to be a critical tool for carrying out ICE’s enforcement priorities,” adding that in order to address concerns ICE will:

  • Refine Secure Communities to focus its limited resources on the most serious criminals across the country.
  • Institute additional training to ensure that law enforcement officers understand the goals and priorities of the program.
  • Take additional steps to continue Secure Communities and respond to any potential civil rights concerns.

The concerns have been raised by immigrant advocates, local, state, and federal elected officials, and labor and civil rights organizations after ICE released data on Secure Communities that shows that most people detained and deported under Secure Communities are either not criminals or minor criminals.

The National Day Laborer Organizing Network points to the TRUST Act, a bill to regulate and reinforce the voluntary nature of Secure Communities that is expected to pass the California Senate soon. It also highlights Los Angeles and Oakland resolutions seeking to opt-out of the program.

The National Immigration Forum wrote on Friday that the Department of Homeland Security, which oversees ICE, “has been under intense pressure to modify or address myriad problems with Secure Communities after three states, Illinois, New York, and Massachusetts and many other localities decided to opt-out of the program.”

The ICE release adds that specific reforms to Secure Communities include:

A new advisory committee composed of chiefs of police, sheriffs, state and local prosecutors, court officials, ICE agents from the field and community and immigration advocates on how to among other changes implement policies to stop the deportation of individuals charged with, but not convicted of, minor traffic offenses and have no other criminal history or egregious immigration violations.

The Immigration Forum adds that Homeland Security “should immediately halt the deeply flawed Secure Communities program, while the commission studies the changes that are needed. The program has serious implementation problems and erodes the trust that communities place in law enforcement. We look forward to the results of the commission’s findings.”

Other changes announced by ICE:

  • Guidance for ICE law enforcement personnel and attorneys touching on their authority to exercise discretion except in cases involving threats to public safety or national security.
  • The ability to exercise prosecutorial discretion to ensure that victims of and witnesses to crimes are properly protected.
  • New training programs for state and local law enforcement about how Secure Communities works and relates to laws governing civil rights.
  • A new policy to protect victims of domestic violence and other crimes, ensure these crimes continue to be reported and prosecuted, and direct ICE officers to exercise appropriate discretion to ensure victims and witnesses to crimes are not deported.
  • Revisions to the detainer form sent to local jurisdictions to emphasize the longstanding guidance that state and local authorities are not to detain an individual for more than 48 hours.
  • A new complaint system and an ongoing quarterly statistical review.

The National Day Laborer Organizing Network release adds that “any program meant to revolutionize our immigration systems should be implemented with deliberation, care, and consultation with impacted communities. The Secure Communities program has failed to do that, and these so-called reforms are more of the same.”

The Organizing Network calls for an immediate stop to Secure Communities, a program they say is a symbol of President Obama’s broken promises on immigration reform.

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