On March 24, 2008, Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) submitted Secure Communities as part of the FY09/10 DHS Budget, and President George W. Bush signed the bill on September 30, 2008. Secure Communities has resulted in unprecedented entanglement of the state and local criminal justice systems with federal immigration enforcement. When state or local law enforcement agencies arrest someone and fingerprint them, those fingerprints are often sent to an FBI database. Under Secure Communities, the FBI database communicates with ICE’s immigration database and if these checks reveal immigration questions, ICE can take enforcement actions.
ICE has reported implementing Secure Communities in over 1,400 jurisdictions in 43 states and one U.S. territory since 2008. ICE plans to expand this program to all jails and prisons in the country in 2013.
The 287(g) program is another ICE program that has significantly increased the entanglement between local law enforcement and immigration enforcement. This program differs from Secure Communities in that it requires training of local enforcement officers by ICE officials. As part of the 1996 Illegal Immigration Reform and Immigration Responsibility Act, 287(g) enables the deputy director of ICE to enter into agreements with local law enforcement agencies allowing them to perform immigration law enforcement actions.
This policy undermines public safety, encourages racial profiling, and has a detrimental impact on victims of domestic violence. By blurring the line between community police and immigration officers, Secure Communities and laws like it place survivors of domestic violence and sexual assault at risk of:
- Dual arrests (arresting both people)
- Perpetrators calling the police with unfounded allegations to expose someone to ICE
- Victims who must drive without a license run the risk of getting arrested because their abusive spouse with legal status may refuse to legalize the victim’s status
- Local law enforcement mistakenly submitting a victim’s fingerprints because they think they are supposed to or because a language barrier prevents them from correctly assessing the situation
- Intimidating other immigrant victims in the community from contacting police and seeking help, thereby allowing abusers to threaten their victims with threats of deportation
ICE Memorandum on Prosecutorial Discretion: Certain Victims, Witnesses, and Plaintiffs (click to read the memo)
Because of the many concerns with the program’s implementation and the adverse effect on immigrant victims and witnesses, on June 17, 2011 ICE issued a prosecutorial discretion memo with new guidance for ICE officers. The memo explained that the priority should be prosecuting criminal offenders and they should be careful not to start immigration proceedings on anyone known to be a victim or a witness to a crime. This memo, however, is not self-implementing. It is a good starting point to begin discussions with local law enforcement and ICE officials to ensure that your community puts in place policies and protocols to protect immigrant victims.
Best Practices in Secure Communities
The District of Columbia, Santa Clara County in California, and Cook County in Illinois are examples of jurisdictions that have put in place promising practices and protocols in the implementation of Secure Communities in order to better protect immigrant victims of domestic violence, sexual assault, and stalking.