A couple of weeks ago, I was listening to NPR when a short piece about ICE’s Secure Communities Program aired. If you’re like me, you’ve heard talk of this federally mandated program, but can’t articulate precisely what it is. So like any other 24 year old in this day and age, I searched Wikipedia. This is the brief description I found:
“In 2007, the program Secure Communities was created within ICE (Immigration and Customs Enforcement agency) to “identify” criminal aliens, “prioritize” them based on the severity of the crime they committed, and “transform” the processes necessary to remove them by increasing efficiency. Secure Communities identifies illegal immigrants with the use of modern technology, notably biometric identification techniques. When an individual is brought to jail, his or her fingerprints are checked for matches in federal immigration databases and criminal databases. If a match is found, ICE places a detainer on the individual, which is a request that the jail holds that person for up to 48 hours beyond their scheduled release, so that ICE can come to interview or possibly take custody of them.”
Although seemingly benign, the mandate has roused county boards across the country, including Arlington County. Here’s why.
The Secure Communities Program links two databases – the FBI’s and ICE’s – to more efficiently process any individual that has been arrested by local law enforcements. But herein lies the catch: any individual, whether criminal or not, would be fingerprinted if they are taken to jail. If there is any question whether the individual is an unauthorized immigrant, ICE can have the local law enforcement detain the individual until ICE arrives. Ultimately, this could lead to communities being less safe, racial profiling, and dubious relations between local law enforcement s and immigrant communities.
On September 28th, the Arlington County Board approved a resolution stating its intent to withdraw Arlington County from the Secure Communities Program. The County Board explicitly stated that the Arlington County Police Department’s responsibility is to keep the community safe, not enforce federal immigration laws. After a couple of days in limbo, the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) released the final word: no county is able to withdraw from the program. The Washington Post states:
The only way a local jurisdiction could opt out of the program is if a state refused to send fingerprints to the FBI. Since police and prosecutors need to know the criminal histories of people they arrest, it is not realistic for states to withhold fingerprints from the FBI – which means it is impossible to withhold them from ICE.
In fact, DHS is under a Congressional mandate instated during the Bush administration to verify fingerprints collected from every jurisdiction in the nation with the ICE database by 2013. The Arlington County officials have gone to great lengths to make it clear that they don’t support the Secure Communities Program mandate even though it is required by federal law to comply.
-Minta Trivette, interim Family Learning Program Specialist