New Jersey immigration lawyers have criticized a federal program called Secure Communities that requires local law enforcement officers to share information of arrests with federal immigration agencies. Now, several states are pushing back against what they see as violations of individual liberties.
Secure Communities allows the sharing of arrest information between law enforcement officers and federal immigration officials. The purpose of the program was to use limited available federal resources to crack down on those immigrants who posed security threats. A person who is booked into a county jail can have his fingerprints shared not just with federal law-enforcement agencies like the FBI, but also the Department of Homeland Security.
At the time the program was set up, it was meant to encourage sharing of information to enforce immigration-related laws and cut down on criminal illegal immigrants. However, the people who are actually being deported or placed under deportation under the program are many who have minor or no crimes on their record. According to data by Immigration and Customs Enforcement, at least 55% of persons who are targeted for deportation under Secure Communities have committed only minor offenses for which they were arrested, but not charged or convicted.
Secure Communities was launched in 2008 as a federal program, and state-supported participation was meant to be optional. However, now Immigrations and Customs Enforcement holds that optional participation is not a choice anymore. This has led to many states reevaluating their enrollment in the program.
Earlier this year, Massachusetts became the third state to voluntarily withdraw from the Secure Communities program. In California too, immigration groups and human rights groups have been combining forces to push back against implementation of the program. A bill in that state would make Secure Communities optional for counties in California, and applicable only to convicted felons. Secure Communities would not be used to crack down on victims of crime.