Department of Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano delivered a speech today at American University about border security, immigration enforcement and her department’s controversial Secure Communities program.
Napolitano called Secure Communities “a program that helps ICE identify those who have been arrested by state and local law enforcement for non-immigration state or local crimes, who are also in the country unlawfully. It bestows no additional authorities onto local law enforcement and only identifies those who have been booked into jails. Literally, in jails.”
Opponents of Secure Communities have repeatedly called on the Obama administration to end the fingerprint-sharing program because immigrants who have committed no crime are being detained and deported, leaving behind U.S.-born children and families that, in many cases, will struggle to make ends meet.
Jonathan Fried of We Count!, a South Florida worker and immigrant advocacy organization, said during an event in August that in Miami-Dade County, as of May 2011, close to 60 percent of undocumented immigrants who have been detained under Secure Communities have not committed a crime.
Napolitano said Secure Communities “got off to a bad start.”
“We did not explain clearly how it works and who is required to participate,” she said. “It has already helped accomplish a great deal toward ensuring that we use our enforcement resources where they do the most good.”
Over the summer, three state governors — in Illinois, New York and Massachusetts — announced they were suspending their participation in Secure Communities. Members of Congress have called on California Gov. Jerry Brown to suspend the state’s participation in Secure Communities.
U.S. House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi told the Spanish-language La Opinion — an online news outlet — that deporting undocumented immigrants who have not committed a serious crime, something she accepted is happening with Secure Communities, is a waste of taxpayer money.
According to Napolitano, “Secure Communities hasn’t increased the number of individuals who are removed, but it has helped change the composition – helping ICE to dramatically increase the number of convicted criminals and egregious immigration law violators,” adding that, “despite the misleading commentary about this program, it has proven to be the single best tool at focusing our immigration enforcement resources on criminals and egregious immigration law violators.”
Pablo Alvarado, director of the National Day Laborer Organizing Network, responded to Secretary Napolitano’s speech today with the following statement:
We are happy to hear Secretary Napolitano mention S-Comm and “termination” in the same sentence. Despite the political spin and marketing campaign to defend a failed program, S-Comm has proven to be a disastrous policy for our nation and for our communities. It should be ended before it leads to the further Arizonification of the country.
Napolitano said termination of Secure Communities “would only weaken public safety, and move the immigration enforcement system back towards the ad hoc approach where non-criminal aliens are more likely to be removed than criminals.”
Napolitano said it is her department’s job “to listen and make adjustments consistent with our best law enforcement judgment. That’s why Secure Communities now has new training for state and local law enforcement, and additional steps are being taken to protect witnesses, domestic violence victims, and victims of other violent crime.”
The National Immigration Forum, ”a vocal and vehement critic of the Secure Communities program,” was invited by the Department of Homeland Security in July to participate in a task force “created in response to growing criticism and concern” about Secure Communities.
The Forum resigned from the advisory committee in September, stating that despite recommendations “that – if implemented – would improve the operation of the Secure Communities program and strengthen civil rights and civil liberties protections,” they “fell short of sound policy recommendations that would cure fundamental flaws in the program.”