(In)-Secure Communities: The fox can't guard the hen house


The orwellian-named "Secure" Communities deportation program was rolled out under a cloud of deception so thick that last year, Rep. Zoe Lofgren of San Jose declared that immigration officialslied to her and local governments about the program. 

Lofgren rightfully asked the Department of Homeland Security's internal watchdog, Office of Inspector General (OIG), to investigate. 

But last Friday, it became painfully clear that this "watchdog" no longer has any teeth, and that solutions like California's TRUST Act are more urgent than ever. 

Hours after OIG issued two tepid reports this morning whose recommendations paper over the program's serious safety and civil rights violations, news broke that the so-called watchdog itself isunder investigation by the FBI and US Dept. of Justice.

The charge: allegedly falsifying reports last year. 

Crisis in public confidence? Check.

Is it any wonder, then, that Congresswoman Lofgren is "frankly disappointed" and "concerned about the thoroughness of [Friday's] review"?

But we should all be concerned, because this massive lack of transparency is propping up a program that has destroyed the lives of tens of thousands of Californians. 

 "Secure" Communities is an out-of-control dragnet that entangles local police with the dirty work of Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE.) The program has deported more than 68,000 people in California. Contrary to ICE's divisive rhetoric, the fact is that 7 in 10 of those deported either had no convictions or were brought in for issues as minor as selling food without a permit. 

The program puts anyone arrested at risk of unfair detention and deportation, whether or not they've had their day in court. 

S-Comm forwards fingerprints of any arrested to ICE. If there's any sort of match in ICE's flawed database, the agency pressures local governments to unfairly trap community members in local jail for extra time, at local expense, beyond when the person would otherwise be released. All so that ICE can sweep more people into the dragnet. 

The agency claims it prioritizes those with serious convictions, but the numbers underscore the lie. So does an ever-growing litany of horror stories. 

Just a few months ago, Blanca Cardenas was ripped from her US Citizen husband and child and deported to Mexico for ... protesting the foreclosure of her home

And horrifyingly, since S-Comm makes victims and witnesses of crimes vulnerable to deportation, parents at Miramonte school in Los Angeles, whose children suffered horrendous abuse,  "told AP that they aren’t talking to authorities because they are afraid that the Sheriff’s Department, which is in charge of the investigation, will refer them to immigration through the Secure Communities program."

So it's no wonder that local governments wanted out of the program.

At first, ICE made it sound like you could opt out. But as the report admits, ICE's definition of what it meant to participate in the program changed five times from August 2009 to August 2010 - right as governments like Santa Clara County and San Francisco were seeking an exit.

What's so frustrating is that despite admitting these shenanigans, today's report tries to chalk it all to the fact that "ICE did not clearly communicate to stakeholders the intent of Secure Communities."

As Assemblymember Tom Ammiano (D-SF) said Friday: Whatever faith the community had in this out-of-control agency's ability to police itself is now permanently broken. The fox simply cannot be trusted to guard the hen house. ... 

Ammiano's remarks were complemented by a companion statement from several immigrant rights groups: Yet rather than uphold our values of transparency - and hold ICE responsible for the deception - OIG's summary and recommendations attempt to cover for the department's misdeeds. ...

Clearly, ICE can't be trusted to police itself. It should end this disastrous program

But in the meantime, our own state of California can and must take action. 

The key is a piece of information ICE desperately wants to keep secret: ICE's cruel requests to detain people who would otherwise be released for extra time and at local expense are just that - requests. 

So to rebuild some of the community trust in law enforcement that S-Comm has destroyed, to create a "bright line" between police and the broken immigration system, we can drastically limit how California responds to those requests so that community members.

Assemblymember Ammiano's TRUST Act (AB 1081) does just that. The bill acknowledges that our families should stay together - it's local police and ICE who should be separate.


Jon Rodney is the Communications Project Coordinator in the California Immigrant Policy Center's Oakland office. He uses his passion for language to help lift up the voices of immigrant communities and generate positive news coverage in print, television, radio and online media outlets.