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New Secure Communities Study Reveals Troubling Data

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Just yesterday, the Obama administration announced it had deported a record number of illegal immigrants in fiscal year 2011. But a new report, released today, raises major questions about a program that has lead to many of those deportations.

Secure Communities, a high-tech way of tracking immigration violators via fingerprint data, has led to the disproportionate arrest of Latinos, the wrongful detention of U.S. citizens and families being split apart when a spouse or parent is deported, according to a new study, [PDF] released today by the Warren Institute at the University of California, Berkeley Law School, in conjunction with the Benjamin N. Cardozo School of Law.

The study is the first to analyze government data on the program. Among its findings:

+ 1.6 percent of those arrested were actually U.S. citizens

+ 39 percent of people arrested through Secure Communities have at least one child or spouse who is a U.S. citizen

+ 93 percent of those arrested are Latinos, even though they account for 77 percent of the entire undocumented population

+ 83 percent of people arrested via Secure Communities are placed in Immigration and Customs Enforcement [ICE] detention; the average Department of Homeland Security immigration detention rate is 62 percent

+ Only 24 percent of individuals arrested via Secure Communities had a lawyer present during an immigration hearing; in general, about 41 percent of all immigration court respondents do

“The results are disturbing because they point to a system that is funneling people towards deportation without due process,” said the study’s lead author Aarti Kohli. “Based on our findings, we recommend that the Department of Homeland Security suspend the program until the government addresses the issues we identify, particularly wrongful U.S. citizen arrests, potential racial profiling, and lack of discretion in detention.”

The New York Times reports that the Obama administration “strongly rejected” the findings. “Any suggested that we are knowingly arresting or detaining U.S. citizens would be false and a misrepresentation,” said ICE director John Morton.

In a statement, ICE spokesperson Gillian Christensen told us:

The report published by the Chief Justice Earl Warren Institute on Law and Social Policy regarding Secure Communities (SC) is misleading and inaccurate. It fails to acknowledge how the program has enhanced public safety or  even  ICE’s fundamental law enforcement responsibility to determine who is in this country illegally and who has lawful status. Every day, state, local, and federal agents and officers question individuals who they believe may be in the commission of an illegal act to ascertain probable cause for an arrest – it is simply core to the job of law enforcement.

ICE has very clear policies governing encountered individuals who claim to be United States citizens. There are millions of records which result in IDENT matches, but that doesn’t mean that the agency takes action on cases where an individual is not removable. If there is a question about an individual’s status, ICE conducts appropriate follow-up. If the individual is a U.S. citizen, ICE takes no additional action. In exercising its civil immigration functions, ICE does not detain U.S. citizens.

The fact of the matter is that through Secure Communities, ICE is transforming and modernizing immigration enforcement in a smart and effective manner to focus resources on identifying and removing individuals that are committing crimes in violation of state criminal laws in addition to immigration violations. ICE will continue carrying out its Congressional mandate to enforce our nation’s immigration laws with a focus on public safety.

Secure Communities has led to the arrest of almost 227,000 people since its inception in 2008. The data in the Warren report is based on a sample of 375 Secure Communities cases that occurred after Oct. 1, 2008, and was obtained via a FOIA request.

For more on Secure Communities — including why three state governors have challenged the program — watch our film Lost in Detention.

Updated Oct. 20, 2012.

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