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The Obama Administration's Attack on Immigrants' Civil Liberties Hits a Judicial Roadblock

July 20, 2011 ·

A federal judge says immigration enforcers misled the general public about fingerprinting program.

A powerful, nationwide electronic immigration sweep is slowly coming to a police force near you. And, the general public might be roped into giving away some of its civil liberties in the process.

That can be concluded from the recently exposed connection between the Federal Bureau of Investigations (FBI) and Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE).

The Department of Homeland Security has championed technological programs like Secure Communities, an electronic fingerprint data-sharing program that's scheduled to be rolled out nationally by 2013. ICE and DHS, however, recently suffered a setback with Secure Communities.

From Courthouse News Service:

MANHATTAN (CN) - A federal judge ordered the federal government to hand over "embarrassing" information about its "Secure Communities" program. "There is ample evidence that ICE and DHS have gone out of their way to mislead the public about Secure Communities," U.S. District Judge Shira Scheindlin wrote.

"In particular, these agencies have failed to acknowledge a shift in policy when it is patently obvious — from public documents and statements - that there has been one," the judge added in a scorching 81-page Opinion and Order in National Day Labor Organizing Network et al. v United States Immigration and Customs Enforcement Agency et al.

Also on Monday, the DHS Office of Inspector General said it will investigate ICE's misrepresentations of the Secure Communities opt-out policy and whether the program fulfills its purported mandate.

The policy shift comes from a rhetorical maneuver by ICE over the last couple of years. Initially, programs like 287(g) and Secure Communities were branded as optional, and slowly brought into cities and counties where their introduction wouldn't be controversial.

Secure Communities was originally explained as a federal immigration fingerprinting database that localities could choose to use to identify gang and criminal activity. The vast majority of the undocumented population, however, is non-criminal.

Despite early signs that a lot of students and parents of U.S. citizens were getting detained under Secure Communities, the administration continued its pursuit of Secure Communities across the nation. At some point, the program stopped being branded as optional, and the courts are now saying that much was obvious.

But the question remains of what ICE is trying to hide while changing the way they talk about Secure Communities.

Recently released documents show that Secure Communities is simply the first step to a wide-reaching FBI program called the Next Generation Initiative that will also include iris scans, palm prints, and facial imaging.

The plaintiff in the case is the National Day Laborers Organizing Network (NDLON), an organization that's suing ICE in this case. (It also won a 2010 Letelier-Moffit Human Rights Award). NDLON points out the political damage that Obama has caused to himself by running after the murky idea of a "secure border" and letting ICE play the national security game all the way to the bank:

"While the Obama administration boasts of the 'Secure Communities' program to win political points with Republicans, it has kept actual policy details nearly secret from Congress, state partners, and the American public. Thankfully, federal courts, not ICE, get the last word," said NDLON director Pablo Alvarado.

Obama needs to realize that he will take punches from Republicans no matter what he does, and that ICE lied to the public on his behalf. So far, he has chosen to stand with those liars, but they might be costing the U.S. governement too much in legal fees. In 2012, he may also pay heavily in lost votes from former supporters who expected him to champion just and humane immigration reform.


Matias Ramos
Carol Jean and Edward F. Newman Fellow