Backgrounder: Secure Communities, ICE's program for deporting criminal immigrants

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What Secure Communities is:

Immigration and Customs Enforcement launched Secure Communities in 2008 to focus on deporting the most dangerous immigrants by prioritizing those convicted of aggravated (level 1) felony offenses like murder, rape and the sexual abuse of children.

Through SComm, when local law enforcement collects fingerprints during its booking process, Homeland Security Department records that include immigration status are automatically checked. The program does not authorize local law enforcement to enforce immigration law.

Results of the program:

Through April 30, 2011, more than 77,000 immigrants convicted of crimes, including more than 28,000 convicted of level 1 felonies, have been deported through SComm identification.

There were 81,000 more criminal removals in fiscal 2010 than in fiscal 2008, a period that also saw a 23% reduction (57,000 fewer) in non-criminal removals. A 2010 ICE brochure (.pdf) touted the program's role in deporting an MS-13 gang member and a rapist.

What DHS has said about it:

In an Aug. 2010 memo titled "Secure Communities: Setting the Record Straight," ICE states, "If a jurisdiction does not wish to activate on its scheduled date in the Secure Communities deployment plan, it must formally notify its state identification bureau and ICE in writing." It goes on to say that ICE has the option of "removing the jurisdiction from the deployment plan," suggesting that opting out from the program is possible.

In Sept. 2010, DHS Secretary Janet Napolitano said that local jurisdictions could opt out, in a letter she wrote to Rep. Zoe Lofgren (D-Calif.), as reported by the Los Angeles Times. A month later, Napolitano clarified that the program is, in fact, not voluntary. Local law enforcement sends fingerprint information to the FBI, and ICE can access the FBI's information. In order to withhold fingerprint information from ICE, police would have to withhold it from the FBI, which they rely on to check the criminal backgrounds of the people they arrest.

Jurisdictions that have tried to opt out:
- Washington, D.C., July 2010. Article (WUSA)
- Arlington County, Va., Sept. 2010. Article (TBD)
- Santa Clara County, Calif., Sept. 2010. Article (KGO-TV)
- state of Illinois, May 2011. Article (Fox News)
- San Franciscio, Calif., June 2011. Article (SF Examiner)
- state of New York, June 2011. Article (WNYC)
- Boston, Mass., July 2011. Article (Boston Globe)

For more:
- go to the info page for SComm at ICE.gov
- read the monthly statistics report (.pdf) from May 2011

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