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Three reasons why S-Comm numbers don't add up

Posted by Carol Rose, On Liberty  February 20, 2013 03:47 PM

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ACLU of Massachusetts staff attorney Laura RĂłtolo wrote this guest blog.

Sunday's article on Secure Communities asks some important questions. Why, despite the Obama administration's focus on deporting criminals, do the numbers tell a different story? Why does the administration’s signature program, Secure Communities (S-Comm), continue to deport so many undocumented workers and so few dangerous persons?

Since it became known that Boston had signed up to be a pilot city in the S-Comm experiment, advocates have monitored the program through the monthly reports from Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE). True to our predictions, S-Comm continues to deport mostly people with minor infractions or no criminal records at all, and not threats to public safety.

This is true even though the program was implemented statewide in May of 2011.As the Globe reports, in some counties, up to 79 percent of those deported had no criminal record.

Advocates know that this is not going to change, so we are working to pass legislation that will limit Massachusetts's role in the deportation machine.

Here are three reasons why the S-Comm numbers don't match the government's policy statements.

1. S-Comm is a dragnet by design.

Despite the public rhetoric, S-Comm was never designed to focus on hardened criminals. It was designed to catch every single person arrested in the United States. Every single fingerprint of every person booked by a local police agency is sent to ICE and put through its database. Massachusetts alone has fed over 151,000 fingerprints into the system.

Most of those prints belong to U.S. citizens. Since S-Comm began, ICE has issued detainers (requests for local police to hold an arrested person until ICE can come and get them) against 834 citizens. This inevitably has led to mistakes, such as the case of Jakadrien Turner, a 15-year old Dallas native who was deported to Colombia.

Nothing about the automatic sharing of data between local police and ICE focuses on a specific level of crime. Instead, any arrest from disturbing the peace to murder is sent to ICE. Nationwide, ICE has received over 23 million fingerprints, creating a massive database that is destined to have more errors.

2. ICE's enforcement priorities are not what they seem.

ICE says it focuses its enforcement efforts on "the removal of individuals who pose a national security or public safety risk, including immigrants convicted of crimes, violent criminals, felons, and repeat immigration law offenders."

But read the memo on enforcement priorities carefully, and you will see that almost anyone can fit into the stated priority areas. The list includes people who cross the border illegally or knowingly overstay a visa.

In reality, ICE focuses on maintaining or increasing the overall number of deportations in order to keep its bloated congressional budget. Internal ICE emails uncovered by the ACLU of North Carolina and reported this week by USA Today show that there is indeed a deportation quota, and that ICE will stop at very little to meet it.

In Georgia, ICE set up traffic stops to look for drivers and passengers to interview. Careful to cover their tracks, an email said that "ICE would not be at the checkpoint itself so this would not appear to be an ICE organized checkpoint. The locals would be the lead ...When the vehicles get sent to secondary location, we (ICE) would be set up there, waiting to interview all individuals we deem necessary."

In North Carolina, ICE teamed up with the motor vehicle department to "identify all denied license renewal applications (due to lack of proof of residency) [to] provide a significant foreign-born target base..."

Do these sound like national security threats?

3. The immigration industrial complex lobbies hard to keep the numbers high.

The deportation system has been a profit-making venture for many companies. This includes manufacturers who make everything from the wall between the U.S. and Mexico, to facial recognition software, to mobile fingerprinting units, to the thousands of detention beds in private prisons.

Immigration detention, itself, is the fastest growing kind of incarceration in the United States, which already has the highest number of incarcerated people of any nation. In the past decade, three million immigrants have been jailed awaiting deportation, many of them in private prisons.

David Venturella, one of the ICE officials responsible for implementing S-Comm is now an Executive Vice President at GEO Group, a private prison company that more than doubled its revenues since 2005 from immigration detention. It also more than doubled its campaign contributions in the last ten years.

For all of these reasons, advocates are working with Massachusetts legislators to set limits on our cooperation with ICE. When S-Comm converts a simple arrest into a hit in an ICE database, our local police should no longer act as jailers for ICE.

A large and diverse coalition of groups from around the state has been saying "no" to S-Comm since its inception. These new revelations only confirm our fears, and strengthen our resolve to seek justice and humanity in our immigration system.

This blog is not written or edited by Boston.com or the Boston Globe.
The author is solely responsible for the content.

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About the author

Carol Rose is executive director of the American Civil Liberties Union of Massachusetts. A lawyer and journalist, Carol has spent her career working for and writing about human rights and civil liberties, both in the United States and abroad. More »

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