Immigration crackdown creates insecure communities

by Renee Feltz and Stokely Baksh

Far from the U.S.-Mexico border, local police arrest thousands of illegal immigrants. Congress wants to make sure these people are deported. To get the job done, it’s relying on a program called Secure Communities. But there’s a hitch: Despite its name, the program may actually hurt public safety.

Secure Communities relies on local law enforcement agencies to share their arrest data with the Immigration and Customs Enforcement Agency (ICE). After an inmate’s fingerprints are scanned they’re sent to a database of state, FBI and immigration records. If ICE agents find a match, they can issue a “detainer” on the inmate and pick him up.

“The Secure Communities strategy provides ICE with an effective tool to identify criminal aliens in local custody,” said the program’s executive director, David Venturella.

Congress appropriated funding for Secure Communities in 2008 as a way for police to help ICE prevent undocumented immigrants with serious criminal records from being released from jails. So far, the program has led to the removal of 47,000 people.

But the government’s own data shows a quarter of those it helped deport — 12,293 people — were considered non-criminals. Others were picked up for relatively low-level offenses such as driving without a license or shoplifting and then transferred to ICE custody and removed.

Because of the program’s failure to focus on high-level offenders, critics say it’s causing fewer immigrants to share information with police that can help solve cases or prevent future crimes.

“This is creating a huge distrust, a huge void in our community-police relations,” said Cesar Espinosa, who works for the Central American Resource Center in Houston. Both the city and the county here are enrolled in Secure Communities. “We have a lot of folks who ask us, if I report a crime, will I be asked for my paperwork?”

Among those most in danger are undocumented women in abusive relationships. They fear being arrested if police respond to their domestic violence calls, and having to leave their children behind.

Civil rights advocates say Secure Communities encourages police to arrest people who have not committed a crime simply to check their immigration status, which is a form of racial profiling. For example, in Travis County — home to Austin, Texas — non-criminals accounted for 82 percent of the deportations resulting from Secure Communities.

“This indicates police officers are picking up people on pretext, the criminal charges are getting dropped or dismissed, and they’re getting shuttled into deportation,” said Bridget Kessler, a fellow with the Immigration Justice Clinic of the Benjamin N. Cardozo School of Law.

Despite its shortcomings, Secure Communities is set to expand to every jail in the country by 2013. More than 500 jurisdictions have joined since it began in 2008, and there is no clear way to opt-out.

In April, San Francisco County Sheriff Michael Hennessey tried to opt-out because he already has a program to notify ICE when his department has immigrants in custody who’ve been charged or convicted of felonies. He estimated ICE picked up about 100 people a month. But he said ICE told him there was no way to refuse enrollment in Secure Communities.

“At this point it appears it is a program that is forced upon individual law enforcement agencies no matter what the community wants or cares about,” said Hennessey.

Renee Feltz and Stokely Baksh co-produce DeportationNation.org. Their work is supported in part by a Soros Justice Media Fellowship, a program of the Open Society Institute. Thanks to Bryan Parras, Tish Stringer and Duy Linh Tu for technical assistance.

 
SUGGESTED STORIES

Comments

  • http://detentionwatchnetwork.wordpress.com/2010/08/19/video-from-pbsneedtoknow-immigration-crackdown-creates-insecure-communities/ Video from @PBSNeedToKnow: Immigration crackdown creates insecure communities | Dignity Not Detention blog

    [...] via PBS’ Need to Know: [...]

  • Susan I. Nelson

    This is great investigative journalism.

    It is very telling that only 20% of those who were removed through the Harris County cooperation with ICE were convicted of high-level offenses. The quote from Lt. Lindsey about “shooting fish in a barrel” was very telling about the attitude of the Harris County Sheriff’s Department toward the undocumented population.

  • Mary Hopkins

    Thanks for the good work. My community has never had a formal 287(g) but there have been periods when the police paid more or less attention to folks’ immigration papers. The effect on community safety was really clear. When police were (in my opinion) profiling, respectable immigrants stayed indoors, kept their kids out of the parks. The gang members, who usually roam around in groups of 2 at most, began hanging out more freely in groups of 4-5 or so, since the people most able to identify them were out of sight. I felt a lot less safe when I had to walk home after dark. I’m glad the police have changed their attitude. They really do have more important things to do.

  • William Crum

    This is the way to go Joe. Here is a man with an open mind.

  • ignacio

    Thanks for this insightful report. Immigration is indeed a divisive issue, however, this reporting invites open and honest discussion about what is not working with this highly punishable immigration system we have in place and the need to work toward reform.

    Thanks again and keep reporting on such important issues.

    IP

  • Delaware Bob

    I have said it a hundred times. It is just one problem after another with these illegal aliens and this illegal immigration. These problems WILL NOT go away until we get rid of all the illegal aliens. Once we get rid of all the illegal aliens, and their anchor babies, these problems WILL go away. THAT IS A FACT! ENFORCE THE LAW! NO AMNESTY! Got it?

  • http://restorefairness.org/2010/08/human-rights-in-the-united-states-where-do-we-stand/ Human rights in the United States? Where do we stand? « Restore Fairness

    [...] tactics of Sheriff Arpaio. The Department of Homeland Security relies upon programs such as 287(g), Secure Communities and the Criminal Alien Program (CAP) which tie up local and state police with immigration [...]

  • http://24Ahead.com 24AheadDotCom

    This isn’t “investigative journalism”, it’s a piece designed to enable massive illegal activity in order to obtain race-based political power.

    And, they don’t reveal that there are visas for domestic violence victims, something that was pushed through by a lawyer linked to the MX government.

    They also, of course, don’t mention the murders and other crimes in SF brought about by their unwillingness to abide by our immigration laws.

  • http://www.economicrefugee.net/economic-refugee-news-weekly-roundup-090510/ Project Economic Refugee , Archive » Economic Refugee News: Weekly Roundup 09/05/10

    [...] PBS report: a program designed to crack down on immigration may actually be making communities insecure. [...]

  • http://www.economicrefugee.net/insecure-communities-program-hurting-public-safety/ Project Economic Refugee , Archive » [IN]Secure Communities Program Hurting Public Safety

    [...] Communities Program” might be misrepresenting in Santa Barbara County CA, here comes a report from PBS on what is going on [...]

  • http://insct.org/research-center/2010/09/09/secure-communities-opt-out-may-be-on-the-table/ Secure Communities Opt-Out May Be on the Table | INSCT Research Center

    [...] far, Secure Communities has led to the removal of 47,000 people. According to government data, a quarter of these people – 12,293 – were considered non-criminals, while others were [...]

  • http://www.deportationnation.org/2010/10/ice-attributes-record-deportation-levels-to-secure-communities/ ICE Attributes Record Deportation Levels to Secure Communities | Deportation Nation

    [...] Nation spoke to Garcia in a previous report, and asked whether he had taken steps to avoid racial profiling. He raised the issue today when he [...]

  • http://www.deportationnation.org/2010/10/ice-revamps-site-continues-offensive-pr-on-secure-communities/ ICE Revamps Site, Continues Offensive PR on Secure Communities | Deportation Nation

    [...] 392,000 deportations, she did so with Sh. Leroy Baca of Los Angeles, CA and Sh. Adrian Garcia of Harris County, TX- who is the first Latino to hold this position and the son of Mexican immigrants. Each lawman [...]

  • http://www.king.net/renee-feltz-ice-revamps-site-continues-pr-offensive-on-secure-communities/ Renee Feltz: ICE Revamps Site, Continues PR Offensive on Secure Communities | KING.NET

    [...] to a record high 392,000 deportations, she did so with Sh. Leroy Baca of Los Angeles, CA and Sh. Adrian Garcia of Harris County, TX- who is the first Latino to hold this position and the son of Mexican immigrants. Each lawman [...]

  • Anonymous

    I support the federal govt’s Secure Communities Initiative and I’m glad it’s in my county. We should applaud the efforts of ICE to prioritize the most serious offenders. However, we must reject the argument that less serious offenders need not be deported.

    ICE must continuously improve enforcement and any illegal resident that comes in contact with any law enforcement officer is subject to deportation. Our goal must be to work toward zero tolerance for illegal immigration, secure our borders, ports, and improve internal security.

    I imagine drug smugglers distrust the police as well as human smugglers, bank robbers juvenile delinquents, etc. Everyone in violation of the law distrusts the police. At some point in time, the law must be up held or changed. I’m not in favor of changing it and I want the law enforced.

    I want to be confident the police enforce immigration laws and take action against everyone here illegally.

  • Lqc9641

    There are plenty of hardworking, law-abiding undocumented immigrants in this country. Why NOT grant these people amnesty and turn them into tax-paying, law-abiding permanent residents? It’s a lot more humane and economically smart instead of scapegoating them because our economy is in the tank.

  • Lqc9641

    There are plenty of hardworking, law-abiding undocumented immigrants in this country. Why NOT grant these people amnesty and turn them into tax-paying, law-abiding permanent residents? It’s a lot more humane and economically smart instead of scapegoating them because our economy is in the tank.

  • Lqc9641

    There are plenty of hardworking, law-abiding undocumented immigrants in this country. Why NOT grant these people amnesty and turn them into tax-paying, law-abiding permanent residents? It’s a lot more humane and economically smart instead of scapegoating them because our economy is in the tank.

  • POOT

    I love this program and support it 100% and so does Obama!

  • http://explorehomeland.org/enforcement/round-up-paths-across-the-border-remain-secure-communities-project-moves-forward/ Round Up: Paths Across the Border Remain; Secure Communities Project Moves Forward | Explore Homeland

    [...] Communities Project Moves Forward, with Challenges (PBS – Need to Know): Secure Communities relies on local law enforcement agencies to share their arrest data with the [...]

  • Kohlironbuy

    Add Beauty to Your Home with our Wrought Iron Doors.

    http://www.irondoors4u.com

  • Kohlironbuy

    Add Beauty to Your Home with our Wrought Iron Doors.

    http://www.irondoors4u.com

  • bobseducater

    Bob, I am with you….deport yourself now! You are the illegal here & you must realize you are not part of this continent. We have been here for 1000′z of years before your family….pray to your god…its 2011, not 1911 or, I bet you where adopted or neglected…? 

  • http://www.economicrefugee.net/moveon-urges-ca-governor-brown-to-sign-trust-act/ MoveOn Urges CA Governor Brown to Sign TRUST Act | Project Economic Refugee

    [...] safer. The legislation is a response to the destructive effects that the highly repressive federal ‘Secure Communities’ program has been having on local communities. Here’s the copy of the e-mail from MoveOn: Dear [...]

  • noseeum

    I agree

  • noseeum

    because they broke our law – and they’re breaking more laws as they leave a trail of crap behind them – driving without a license – kill people – no insurance – using up our resources and not paying for it

  • noseeum

    that’s weak

  • noseeum

    no reform – just get them out – the system was fine it just wasn’t inforced

  • noseeum

    get out roaches – bye bye – I hope your terrified

  • irritated

    my husband is a immigrant, been here 40 years, came here legally and received a green card. Bought and sold more homes probably more than you have lived in. Pays taxes yearly, owns a construction business and same business, same name over 25 years, same phone number for 20 years, married me, didn’t turn in proper documentation when needed and green card was denied. Went on with life, but my son who is 21 and my husband who is the immigrant got into a verbal dispute over son not holding job, paying his share of the bills and my husband was chopping meat and just so happened to have knife in hand during verbal only argument and my son called and lied and said my husband is threatening to kill him. Husband is arrested and charged with aggravated assault with deadly weapon, and now I can’t bond him due to ICE Hold…………….. This is not fair, he pays into a system that he is not entitled to use. If he died today, our children whom are citizens along with me being a citizen could not collect his social security because of his legal status. He can’t go home, everyone is either dead or living in the states. This is his home. We have been in the same home for 20 years, we are well known in the community and are very established. The corrupted system needs reformed, not everyone is treated fairly and in our case the system is hurting us. I had to stop medical classes to take over his business that I know nothing about in order to get some of his friends to help me keep company running to keep our only home.

    As far as leaving a trail of crap behind them, have you checked the local citizens lately? They drive without license, kill people, no insurance, using resources which I was told we made too much to seek assistance, funny since my so called illegal husband’s income shouldn’t matter since his legal status is not current, but they keep taking out social security and medicare taxes from someone who is unable to use them for his own benefit in the future.

    Wrongfully accused and racially profiled and automatically he fits the description for deportation. Oh and by the way ICE does not reimburse our county jails for housing them for a few days until they are able to pick them up, we pay for their housing, care, food and get nothing in return. Also when the criminal courts charge them with a crime here, they don’t always do the time for the crime, if deportation is faster they get deported and their crime is dismissed, so they are free to go home and return from the river with a clean and free record of any criminal activity here……….justice……..right? I don’t think so.

  • seriously

    RIGHT, because you follow every single law there is. they work for what they have, you don’t
    see any illegal “aliens” on the side of the freeways asking for money.

  • negotiatoR

    Matter of fact there are lots of illegals begging here in Austin – and that’s because it’s a sanctuary city – you’ll probably see them in California as well – but you won’t see them in Florida because Florida is tough on all pan handlers
    If you want to see all the people getting busted in Florida go to Orlando sentinel mug shots
    What you’ll see is allot of Mexicans getting busted for no drivers license
    When that happens they do have problems and usually skip court
    The illegal Mexicans down there keep a low profile because they don’t want to get in any trouble and be deported
    It all depends on the State and their laws – if an illegal Mexican can get away with murder they’ll do it all day long
    - Besides that – what are the Mexican people running from – the one’s who are running to America are the cowards – because right now back in Mexico their brothers are fighting the oppressive corrupt tyrannical Government risking their life’s while their brothers flee to American
    And then what’s funny is they have allot of guts pushing around grand ma and grand pa here in America – but no guts when it comes to being back in their own country
    Pitiful!

  • negotiatoR

    If you don’t understand then I’m tire of wasting my breath – there’s is plenty of information on the internet to answer your questions and by now you should know the answer.
    We have laws just like every other country – only our laws are a lot more civil and compassionate than others – for example Mexico’s – and we all no what Mexico does to Illegals in their country

  • negotiatoR

    The truth is they don’t pay taxes – use our roads, schools, infrastructure, don’t have to pay for hospitals – get welfare – have their babies over here
    And we hard working Americans have been paying for this crap for long enough – they’re part of the reason our economy has been destroyed – because all of our Taxes have been getting used up by them
    They leave a trail of shit all the way from Mexico into our Country and it doesn’t stop there
    Our prisons are filled with them because more than half them are criminals

  • negotiatoR

    What about the honest immigrants who’ve been waiting in line to become American citizens
    One thing I don’t like is rude people – and people who don’t respect other peoples laws
    We don’t need people like that here in America

  • CitizenQuasar

    I respect and honor all Hispanic Americans who are legal and lawful citizens.

    “my husband is a immigrant, been here 40 years, came here legally and received a green card.”

    If your husband came here legally 40 years ago then why is he NOT a citizen yet? Something doesn’t add up here. I am calling bullshit on your story.

    “We have been in the same home for 20 years, we are well known in the community and are very established.”

    If you have been in the same home, legally, for 20 years then why is your husband NOT a citizen yet? Something doesn’t add up here. I am calling bullshit on your story.

    “As far as leaving a trail of crap behind them, have you checked the local citizens lately?”

    Citizens do these things by right and you do them as criminals. In this sentence is where your evil intentions show thru in that you pretend that your illegal immigrant friends should be allowed to break the law in this land even though they refuse to come here legally. Once a criminal, always a criminal.

  • irritated

    Nope not a citizen yet, it is a long process that requires money, we just don’t have a few thousand laying around to put towards citizenship or a lawyer to make sure we filled out everything correctly. So in the mean time he pays into social security for us citizens to have one day. He pays taxes on our home to support our hospitals, roads and schools. He is not exempt from anything in this country other than voting since he not a citizen.

    But now that he is in jail, we are forced to make him legal again to keep from being deported.
    There are citizens in this country with bad criminal records and unfortunately we are stuck paying for their crimes by housing them in prisons and jails because we don’t have the choice to deport them, so let’s pick on the illegal and legal immigrants, because we can house them for a short time period and deport them, they are a easy target.
    My husband civil rights and due process of law are violated in this corrupt county we live in. He is not given proper representation that he is entitled to. He came here legally, he didn’t sneak in. Let your license expire and you will be treated the same. You are not dead, you still know how to drive but for the simple fact you didn’t renew a government required document, you are BREAKING THE LAW. Does it make you a criminal? NO!, nor should you be treated the same as a Killer, or child molester, my husband didn’t break a law, he was falsely accused and now his legal status is in jeopardy due to not turning in proper documents.

  • CitizenQuasar

    I do NOT believe a word of what you say. It only takes an hour or so in a law library to learn how to fill out the appropriate forms. You expect me to believe that a foreigner has been here for 40 years…FORTY YEARS…and can’t even fill out a few pieces of paper. If he is a legal alien and has been here for forty years then he has filled out a whole truckload of paperwork to get his green card renewed.

    No. All you are is an agitator and a liar. And you try to lay a guilt trip on me. You are a liar and a fool.

  • negotiatoR

    Exactly!!! Isn’t worth acknowledging ignorance

  • negotiatoR

    Pitiful!!!

  • negotiatoR

    We call these people “LIARS”!!

  • negotiatoR

    If the American people weren’t here today, then America would be under dictatorship and the Indian would be an instinct race only seen in pictures or museums – the reason everyone is running to America is because the American people are here – so it’s a good thing we are on the soil of America. We are the people from all over the world – when you refer to an American you refer to everyone from every nation and race.
    It’s a big mistake to try and associate anyone who is white or other than Mexican to be racist simply because they don’t want anyone regardless of race to come into their country illegally – being an American is not a right its a privilege to anyone who is from another country – if it weren’t a privilege then it would not be appreciated – people who don’t earn something take if for granted.
    What is an American? an American is a person born in America and a person who believes in the right’s of liberty, freedom, and the pursuit of happiness – a person who believes in our Constitution which is the law of the land – anyone who stands against the our Constitution is a traitor and should be thrown out to a different country that has laws they can agree with.
    Our Government isn’t necessarily a reflection of the majority of the common American – the common American is compassionate and caring – the common American has been used and abused and lied to by a corrupt government and the truth is coming out – the one’s who are really responsible for all of the wars that weren’t necessary.
    The common American has fought many wars just like others of different nationalities – but it was for a lie ordered by the one’s that manipulate us
    If it were up to all of the people in the world – there would be any wars – Wars were created by rulers through lies and deceit for personal gain.
    That’s why our constitution tells us to mind our own business and only go to war to defend ourselves