Secure Communities first went into effect in 2008 as a pilot program in Boston, MA, and six North Carolina and Texas counties. Promoted as a technological solution for sharing local arrest data with federal immigration agents looking for dangerous criminals, it has functioned as a much broader dragnet. Scroll through this timeline to track the development of this controversial program. Check back regularly for updates.
Created by DeportationNation on Jan 12, 2011
Last updated: 11/07/11 at 02:07 PM
Tags: Secure Communities timeline immigration ICE enforcement DHS John Morton Janet Napolitano
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According to documents obtained by the Uncover the Truth Coalition, local police are not required to hold undocumented immigrants at the request of ICE.
The documents also support decisions by Cook County, Ill., Santa Clara, Calif., and San Franciscoto to not honor detainers.
Jessica Karp, attorney for the National Day Laborer Organizing Network, explained, "A lot of local law enforcement officials don't want to be a part of immigration enforcement. This is one way to 'opt-out' of the program.”
“Programs like Secure Communities are understudied, largely because of their rapid implementation and expansion and because the data has been kept, in large part, confidential,” wrote the study’s authors.
Their findings included:
Approximately 3,600 United States citizens have been arrested by ICE through the Secure Communities program.
More than one-third (39%) of those arrested through Secure Communities report that they have a U.S. citizen spouse or child, meaning that approximately 88,000 families with U.S. citizen members have been impacted by Secure Communities.
Latinos comprise 93% of individuals arrested through Secure Communities though they only comprise 77% of the undocumented population in the United States.
Only 52% of individuals arrested through Secure Communities are slated to have a hearing before an immigration judge.
In a 3-1 vote, Santa Clara County officials approved a new set of guidelines for civil immigration detainers, which would limit the county’s collaboration with ICE officials. The guidelines would require the county to only honor those detainers convicted of “serious” or “violent” felonies and it would not apply a detainer hold on juveniles. The guidelines would also require a written agreement from ICE to reimburse all costs incurred by the County for holding a detainer for an extended time.
According to the New America Media, Supervisor George Shirakawa told an audience of supporters, “Today is historic. We now have the most progressive policy in this field, and the whole nation will be looking at us as Santa Clara County makes it official: we don’t do ICE’s job.”
Meanwhile, the Washington Post reported that Washington D.C. Mayor Vincent C. Gray (D) signed an executive order that would prohibit police, fire fighters, the attorney general’s office and other public safety agencies from inquiring about a person’s immigrant status or contacting ICE. However, the order does not apply in criminal investigations.
The Administration reported this week that it had deported a record number of undocumented immigrants for the third year in a row, removing 396,906 individuals in FY2011.
“These year-end totals indicate that we are making progress, with more convicted criminals, recent border crossers, egregious immigration law violators and immigration fugitives being removed from the country than ever before,” said Immigration Customs and Enforcement Director John Morton.
As of September 27, 2011, Secure Communities was activated in 1,595 jurisdictions in 44 states and territories.
A task force charged with making recommendations to improve the controversial Secure Communities program released a critical draft report on how the Administration continued to create confusion about its enforcement priorities and how it underestimated the negative impact the program had on immigrant communities and community policing.
The report also prompted the resignation of five members including Chris Crane and Monica Beamer of the American Federation of Government Employees and Andrea Zuniga DiBitetto of the AFL-CIO, who resigned because they felt the report did not reflect their concerns or recommendations. Arturo Venegas, a retired police chief of Sacramento and director of the Law Enforcement Engagement Initiative, also chose to resign because he felt the report fell short.
The Administration announced that low priority immigrant offenders will not be targeted for deportation under new guidelines. According to White House officials, the government will launch a case-by-case review of approximately 300,000 cases of undocumented immigrants in removal proceedings, allowing those who pose no threat to society to remain in the country and apply for a work permit.
The announcement follows up on a June memo that laid out priorities for the Immigration Customs and Enforcement agency across the board that addressed enforcement activity, detention decisions, budget requests and prosecutorial discretion. The memo also prioritized three tiers of high priority immigrants including those that pose a danger, recent border entrants, and repeat violators.
Hundreds of advocates turned out for public hearings with members of the Secure Communities task force to persuade them to terminate the program. The hearings, which were being held in several cities including Los Angeles, Dallas, and Arlington, VA over a couple of weeks, were aimed at collecting recommendations on how to improve the Secure Communities program.
The emotionally-charged hearings brought out many who chanted for the end the program and called for members to resign, groups also walked out of hearings in protest. In Chicago, several demonstrators were arrested after staging a sit-in that blocked traffic, while others marched on. Advocates also dropped off petitions in several cities at local Democratic Party headquarters to demand the termination of the program.
“The statement was to make it very clear that we are angry, that we are tired of having programs such as Secure Communities,” said Fanny Martinez in an interview with Democracy Now. “And in reality, doing the civil disobedience, we knew that we were taking the risk of possibly getting arrested, but under programs like Secure Communities, we are running the risk every day anyway, so really, this wasn’t a big difference.”
Martinez, an undocumented student and activist with the Immigrant Youth Justice League, was one of the individuals arrested and later released.
ICE informed state governors that it would be “terminating” contracts with states for its increasingly unpopular Secure Communities program. The agency said that the program will continue to be implemented regardless of states wanting to opt-out.
The latest move by ICE has prompted rallies by advocate groups opposing the fingerprinting program that they say promotes racial profiling.
Boston Mayor Thomas M. Menino announced that he would withdraw police from Secure Communities program unless US federal immigration officials limit their deportation efforts to only those immigrants who have committed serious crimes.
ICE unveiled a list of reforms to its controversial “Secure Communities” program, which includes changes to the detainer policy, grant authority for prosecutorial discretion to ICE attorneys, and create an advisory committee, among other things.
Advocates called the reforms cosmetic, hoping the agency would suspend the program.
Los Angeles City Council voted 11-1 to pass a resolution that supports a state bill "to ensure that the U.S. Department of Homeland Security's Secure Communities program is provided to local governments on a voluntary basis and that local governments may unilaterally opt-out of the Secure Communities program at the discretion oftheir local legislative bodies; and that the program docs not impair the ability of victims to report crimes and concentrates its efforts on the truly dangerous criminals that arc in the United States illegally."
A letter from the city's chief legislative analyst noted that "Secure Communities appears to directly contradict Special Order 40 of the Los Angeles Police Department (LAPD) and the LAPD's relationship with immigrant communities." The order forbids officers from stopping people with the sole intent of checking their immigration status.
LAPD Assistant Chief Michel Moore said other police agencies around the country have abused the program. He told the LA Times that "the perception alone undermines our ability to maintain and build upon trust with these (immigrant) communities, trust that's vital to our ability to maintain the safety for those communities and all Angelenos."
Massachusetts Gov. Deval Patrick is the latest state official to decide not to sign his state up for the Secure Communities program.
It's the third state, behind New York and Illinois as well as the District of Columbia to resist the program.
In a letter written by Massachusetts Public Safety Secretary Mary Beth Heffernan on behalf of Gov. Patrick, Heffernan wrote that the Secure Communities program does not meets its objectives of targeting serious criminals, stating that only 1 in 4 of those deported in Boston’s pilot participation of the program were convicted of a serious crime. More than half of those deported were identified as non-criminal, she said.
Heffernan also commented on the Immigration Customs and Enforcement’s conflicting mandatory versus voluntary message over the last year.
“We are reluctant to participate if the program is mandatory and unwilling to participate if it is voluntary,” she wrote.
Gov. Andrew Cuomo made it official that New York state will pull out of President Obama's flagship immigration enforcement program.
“There are concerns about the implementation of [Secure Communities] as well as its impact on families, immigrant communities and law enforcement in New York,” Cuomo said in a press release. “As a result, New York is suspending its participation in the program.”
Cuomo sent a letter to the Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE), alerting them of the suspension. It noted his administration had “received numerous complaints and questions about the purpose and implementation” of the program and said the “greatest concern is that instead of targeting dangerous criminals it is “compromising public safety by deterring witnesses to crime and others from working with law enforcement.”
A policy that would require San Francisco police to release undocumented immigrants arrested for low-level crimes, even if ICE places a detainer is placed on them goes into effect.
SF Sheriff Michael Hennessy announced the new policy last month, saying that it was meant to uphold the city’s sanctuary ordinance which “prohibits local officials from assisting ICE unless it involves a felony.”
The California Assembly passed the TRUST ACT in a 47-26 vote, which now heads to the Senate for consideration.
The bill was introduced by Assemblyman Tom Ammiano’s (D-San Francisco) and would modify current agreements between ICE and counties in the state, making it an opt-in program with safeguards including preventing racial profiling.
Former ICE contractor Dan Cadman sent a letter to California Rep. Zoe Lofgren to set the record straight.
The letter followed his termination with the agency after a New York Times article revealed that immigration officials launched an aggressive campaign to obtain participation from counties refusing to join, and questioned Rahm Emmanuel’s involvement with that campaign.
“It comes down to this: ICE painted itself into a corner and needed someone to blame,” Cadman wrote. “While my views over the nature of voluntary participation in the program may not accord with yours, I think you will agree after reading my letter that confusion over opting out of Secure Communities has arisen not because of me, but because of the government’s own vacillation, policy shifts, and inconsistent public stances.”
Illinois Governor Pat Quinn informed ICE officials that state police will no longer participate in the federal government’s fingerprint sharing program called Secure Communities.
His decision to terminate the state’s memorandum of agreement (MOA) with the agency marked the first time a state has withdrawn from the program and comes on the heels of growing frustration from local officials over its implementation.
As of May 3, 2011, 1,265 jurisdictions were enrolled in Secure Communities.
Rep. Zoe Lofgren (D-CA) sent letters to the Department of Homeland Security’s Inspector General and Office of Professional Responsibility requesting an investigation into the misconduct of immigration officials who she says misled the public with dishonest information on Secure Communities.
“You can’t have a government department essentially lying to local government and to members of Congress,” Lofgren told the Los Angeles Times.“This is not OK.”
Documents released by advocates on April 14 confirmed local frustration with the federal government’s fast-track expansion of the Secure Communities program – this time in California.
Many of the 500 documents released via litigation includes email correspondence between officials with the Immigration and Customs Enforcement agency (ICE) that document its public relations campaign to implement the program in resistant counties such as San Francisco. Emails also show how ICE officials provided mixed messages to local officials on the program’s voluntary and mandatory nature, and crafted new language to describe their shift from the voluntary formula to a deferral to 2013 formula.
According to internal documents released by the Uncover the Truth Coalition, immigration officials launched an aggressive campaign to have reluctant local authorities to participate in the Secure Communities program.
Local officials pressured include Chicago Mayor Richard M. Daley and Cook County Sheriff Tom Dart.
Jefferson Parish, Louisiana, led counties enrolled in Secure Communities with the highest level of non-criminal deportations, followed by Prince George’s County in Maryland and Merced County in California, according to new data released Thursday by the Uncover the Truth Coalition.
“Nationally, 1 in 4 people deported under S-Comm haven’t been convicted of any crime,” said Bridget Kessler of Benjamin Cardozo School of Law, one of the organizations in the Coalition. “That ratio jumps to over 50 percent in Boston, certain areas of California, and in multiple examples across the country. Those numbers raise questions about how S-Comm may allow local police to cover up profiling and circumvent due process.”
ICE also released new IDENT statistics that show immigrants with low level offenses account for a large number of those caught in the dragnet created by Secure Communities.
Of 477,035 matches, 71, 197 have been identified as level 1 offenders, while 405,838 were identified as level 2 and level 3, between October 2008 and February 2011.
Meanwhile, of the 405,838 level 2 and level 3 matches, 52,603 individuals were identified as non-criminals booked into ICE custody, while 24,884 level 2 offenders and 49,019 level 3 offenders were booked.
As of March 22, 2011, 1,123 jurisdictions in 40 states were enrolled in Secure Communities.
Immigration enforcement by local police is having a chilling effect on how residents interact with them, warned a report from the Police Executive Research Forum (PERF).
“The last thing we need is for laws to undermine the trust that police departments have built up with the community,” said Jerry Murphy, PERF’s Director of Homeland Security and Development.
ICE implemented Secure Communities in remaining counties in North Carolina.
Newly released records revealed how federal authorities kept altering their stance on whether local police are required to share arrest data with immigration agents, even if they ask not to.
“Keeping you in the loop as we progress with always changing policy as it relates to [Secure Communities],” read a May 2010 email update from an unidentified sender about the controversial program.
The message is one of hundreds included in 15,000 pages released only after the National Day Laborers Organizing Network filed suit over a records request with help from the Center for Constitutional Rights and the Cardozo School of Law.
Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano announced new plans to develop an oversight process and to train local police who participate in the Secure Communities program during a 2012 budget request hearing for the department.
“ICE will work with DHS’s Office of Civil Rights and Civil Liberties and the Department of Justice to develop a robust oversight and evaluation process of Secure Communities and to provide training to state and local law enforcement,” Napolitano testified before the Senate Homeland Security and Government Affairs Committee.
Secure Communities continued to expand in New Mexico, and is now implemented in all 33 counties in the state. The program is now implemented in 1033 jurisdictions in 38 states.
A request for records concerning the Secure Communities program is delayed due to formatting problems with data.
Judge Shira Scheindlin in the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of New York asked in a Feb. 3 ruling for both parties in the dispute to resolve the issue.
The dispute is part of an on-going Freedom of Information request made on behalf of the National Day Laborer Organizing Network (NDLON), the Center for Constitutional Rights (CCR) and the Immigration Justice Clinic of the Benjamin N. Cardozo School of Law.
If steps aren’t taken to monitor local police not trained in immigration enforcement, the federal immigration agency’s Secure Communities program could invite racial profiling and pretexual arrests on a larger scale – more so than the highly controversial 287(g) program, warned a new report from the Migration Policy Institute.
“Indeed, Secure Communities may even be more susceptible to this problem since there are no formal agreements defining the activities of participating law enforcement agencies, and local officers do not receive federal training in immigration enforcement,” the report said.
According to the Washington Post, ICE’s immigration database failed to detect Salvador Portillo-Saravia, a suspect in a rape case who re-entered the country after he was deported in 2003. Portillo-Saravia, an MS-13 gang member, was arrested weeks before in Loudoun County for pubic intoxication but then released when the Secure Communities database did not identify him undocumented or as a gang member. A frustrated Loudoun Sheriff Stephen Simpson told the Post that ICE:
“…advertised the program as a way to electronically check all people arrested as soon as they are fingerprinted, eliminating the need for additional investigation… We had no reason to believe he was a gang member. There was no other reason for him to be on our radar screen.”
ICE’s solution? An agency spokesman told the Post that Loudoun County should have performed a manual record check and contacted ICE if they felt a person warrants further concern. He also said people deported before 2005 may not be in the electronic database because their prints were taken on paper.
Rhode Island Attorney General Peter F. Kilmartin signed an agreement to implement the Secure Communities program.
“The program has a proven track record of enhancing public safety by focusing on violent offenders and those that pose a threat to our communities and our national security.”
The agreement was signed after Governor Lincoln Chafee rescinded former Gov. Donald L. Carcieri’s 2008 executive order cracking down on illegal immigration.
With the expansion Secure Communities, ICE implemented the program statewide in Wisconsin's 72 jurisdictions.
Currently, ICE is using this capability in 969 jurisdictions in 37 states.
Governor Bill Ritter signed a new MOA that puts significant limits on Secure Communities that includes a protection for domestic violence victims and new oversight measures. However, the new language in the MOA creates a new concern for advocates.
New York Gov. David Paterson signed a modified Secure Communities Memorandum of Agreement (MOA), which broadens the definition of level 1 offenders and adds a “risk-based approach” to determine which immigrants it will target for deportation.
However, immigrant and civil rights activists say the revised partnership is substantially similar to the old one signed in May.
Judge Shira Scheindlin in the US District Court for the Southern District of New York responded to an emergency injunction from the National Day Labor Organizing Network (NDLON), Center for Constitutional Rights (CCR) and the Benjamin N. Cardozo Immigration Justice Clinic, ordering ICE to release opt-out-related documents on January 17, 2011 or explain why the information must be held.
Meanwhile, Scheindlin sets a date of February 25, 2001 as the deadline for ICE to release all other outstanding data pertaining to the group's FOIA requests.
Secure Communities Executive Director David Venturella made conflicting statements about opting out of Secure Communities at the round table discussion “Assessing the ‘Secure Communities’ Program and the Impact of the 287(g) Agreements” in Washington DC.
ICE sat down with officials in San Francisco and Santa Clara to discuss opt-out requests, confirming there is no opt-out option and acknowledges confusion created.
“They said ‘When we find out about somebody who is undocumented we go after them,’” said Anjali Bhargava, Deputy Counsel for Santa Clara County. “That seemed very inconsistent from everything we had heard before about the purpose of this program and the priorities they’re supposed to be enforcing.”
After a meeting with ICE, Arlington County Manager Barbara M. Donnellan announced that Arlington cannot opt-out of Secure Communities.
“ICE stated clearly – and with finality – that local activated communities do not have the option of withholding information from the program, although communities can opt not to learn the results of immigration queries,” Donnellan said in a statement.
The National Day Labor Organizing Network, Center for Constitutional Rights, and Benjamin N. Cardozo School of Law filed an emergency injunction in federal court to require ICE to turn over critical documents on the ability of jurisdictions to opt-out of Secure Communities.
Arizona and West Virginia enrolled all remaining counties into the Secure Communities program.
As of October 13, 2010, Secure Communities was activated in 685 jurisdictions in 33 states.
Following a resolution passed by Arlington County Board to withdraw from Secure Communities, County Manager Barbara Donnellan sends a letter to ICE to seek clarification on withdrawing from Secure Communities after conflicting statement are made. Donnellan also suggested that if local participation is not voluntary, the county would be open to identifying “potential technical and procedural solutions that would fulfill ICE’s stated objectives” for the program.
DHS Secretary Janet Napolitano announced there is no opt-out option for Secure Communities. “We do not view this as an opt-in, opt-out program,” Napolitano said.
Texas enrolled remaining counties in to the Secure Communities program. "This sophisticated biometrics tool allows us to quickly and accurately identify those criminal aliens who pose the greatest threat to our communities," said Nuria T. Prendes, field office director for the ICE Office of Enforcement and Removal Operations (ERO) in Dallas.
Both Arlington County, Virginia and Santa Clara County, California unanimously voted to pass resolutions to withdraw from the Secure Communities program.
“We had a big victory today,” said Margaret Huang, Executive Director for the Rights Working Group in VA. “They took a strong position and made it clear that if the federal government expects to cooperate with local jurisdictions, they actually have to go through consultation and and discussion about programs before they are imposed on that local jurisdiction.”
DHS Secretary Janet Napolitano confirmed an opt-out process in a Sept. 7 letter to California Congresswoman Zoe Lofgren confirming an opt-out process.
Napolitano’s letter came in response to an inquiry made by Lofgren in a July 27 letter to Napolitano and U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder about confusion over the opt-out process.
“A local law enforcement agency that does not wish to participate in the Secure Communities deployment plan must formally notify the Assistant Director for the Secure Communities program…The agency must also notify the appropriate state identification bureau…If a local law enforcement agency chooses not to be activated in the Secure Communities deployment plan, it will be the responsibility of the state agency to notify its local ICE field office of suspected criminal aliens.”
ICE released the brief “Setting the Record Straight,” directed towards the National Day Labor Organizing Network (NDLON), Center for Constitutional Rights (CCR) and the Benjamin N. Cardozo Immigration Justice Clinic.
With regards to opt-out issue, it states that a jurisdiction who does not witch to activate Secure Communities, “must formally notify its state identification bureau and ICE in writing (email, letter or facsimile)”, and subsequent resolution may result in “adjusting the jurisdiction’s activation date in or removing the jurisdiction from the deployment plan.”
The document was then removed from the ICE website on or about October 11, 2010 during the agency’s revamp of its official website.
The National Day Labor Organizing Network (NDLON), Center for Constitutional Rights (CCR) and the Benjamin N. Cardozo Immigration Justice Clinic released a number of documents they received from ICE including data that showed a majority of people (79%) deported through Secure Communities were non-criminals or individuals convicted of minor offenses.