Federal lawmakers seek investigation of Secure Communities

| May 3, 2011 | Deportation and Removal |

A U.S. Congresswoman has called on the Department of Homeland Security to launch an investigation into potential “misconduct, including possible violations of criminal law,” by immigration officials. The Congresswoman says federal immigration officials misled local governments across the country and members of Congress about how the Department of Homeland Security was to implement the Secure Communities program.

When a person is booked into a local jail, the individual’s fingerprints are cross-checked with an FBI database. The FBI then forwards the fingerprints to immigration officials under the Secure Communities program. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) then screens the fingerprints for immigration status. The process can lead to a removal hearing in an Immigration Court.

Some local agencies across the country seek to opt out of the federal program because it can ensnare low level offenders and others who are booked into jail and later not formally charged with a crime. The communities who wish to opt out fear the program may hinder local law enforcement investigations.

The program was launched in 2008. ICE and Department of Homeland Security officials reportedly told members of Congress and local governments they could opt out of the program. Federal officials reportedly define “opt-out” as the local government’s decision to not receive results from the immigration screening. Opting out of the program does not prevent the fingerprint sharing program with immigration officials.

The Los Angeles Times reports an ICE official says Secure Communities “is not voluntary and never has been.” Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano says the subject has been “a misunderstanding from the get-go.”

U.S. Rep. Zoe Lofgren (D-Cal.) wrote a letter last week to Homeland Security’s Office of Inspector General saying “[i]t is unacceptable for government officials to essentially lie to local governments, Members of Congress, and the public.”

U.S Sen. Robert Menendez (D-N.J.) joined the Representative in calling for an investigation. Menendez wants the program limited to serious criminal offenses. He says local police “should be able to decide whether the program helps or hurts their number one priority of fighting crime.”

ICE data shows that more than half of those people targeted for removal under the Secure Communities program have committed misdemeanors or were never convicted of the charge for which the individual was arrested.

Source: Los Angeles Times, “Inspector general asked to investigate alleged misconduct by federal immigration officials,” Lee Romney 28 Apr 2011