Shortly before the Department of Homeland Security is expected to announce another round of changes to its much-maligned “Secure Communities” deportation program, it’s worth asking: “Can this program really be fixed?”
Since my original writing about Secure Communities two years ago, the program has only become more controversial. Three states and numerous cities have come forward to demand an “opt out” that would allow them to not participate in the initiative.
As law enforcement officials, I and others have expressed reservations about “Secure Communities” from the beginning. The program, which requires police to check the immigration status of anyone booked into custody, pulls state and local police into the task of immigration enforcement to an unprecedented degree. The effect is the “Arizonification” of the country.
As a former officer of the Washington, D.C. Metropolitan Police force, I know that when immigrants perceive local police as immigration officers, public safety suffers. Immigrant witnesses and crime victims become reluctant to report crime, so perpetrators remain free to prey on others. Community policing, a successful crime-fighting strategy based on constructing collaborative relationships of trust between police and the communities they serve, becomes near impossible. And resources that should go toward fighting crime are diverted to facilitating the deportation of mothers, fathers, children, and friends, whose only offense is to have violated one of the outdated and unjust provisions of our civil immigration law.
This public safety effect was confirmed recently by a Department of Justice investigation of civil rights abuses in Maricopa County, Arizona(known throughout the country for the racial profiling and abusive, anti-immigrant tactics of its Sheriff Joe Arpaio). Following a three-year investigation the Department found that: “[The Maricopa County Sheriff’s Office’s] prioritization of immigration enforcement may have compromised its ability to secure the safety and security of Maricopa County residents. Since MCSO shifted its focus toward combating illegal immigration, violent crime rates in the county have increased significantly as compared to similarly situated jurisdictions.”
It’s no coincidence that all of the harsh, Arizona-style anti-immigrant laws require local police to engage in immigration enforcement. Making local police a gateway to deportation creates division, promotes fear, encourages racial profiling, and helps to separate hundreds of thousands of families. But it makes no sense for the federal government to “Arizonify” the rest of the country with “Secure Communities” when it’s clear that the entanglement of police and immigration functions harms us all.
Concerns for public safety and the allocation of scarce resources are what led the Governors of Illinois, New York, and Massachusetts to ask to terminate, suspend, or not activate “Secure Communities” in their states. They are what led the D.C. City Council to unanimously introduce a law against the program, the first of many similar local ordinances and resolutions around the country. And they are what lead me to believe that Secure Communities can’t be fixed—it has to be ended.
If prior DHS “reforms” are any indication, the forthcoming announcement of changes to Secure Communities will be more a public relations show than a move toward real change. Remember 287(g), another federal program designed to harness the power of local police for immigration enforcement, perhaps best known for the abuses of Sheriff Arpaio in Arizona? In the face of scathing criticism, DHS “reformed” the program, issuing new guidance, creating a “refresher” training course, and setting up new “advisory committees.” But these changes served more to take the pressure off DHS than to produce any real changes on the ground.
As long as Secure Communities continues to force police to act as a pipeline for deportation, we will continue to move toward a vision of the country in which we all look more and more like Arizona. If you find that prospect troubling, it’s time to join in the call to end, not mend Secure Communities.
Ron Hampton, BLEA, Washington DC