End this Cynical Anti-Immigrant Program, Save $460 Million

Protest against Secure Communities program outside Mass. State House

Immigration and Customs Enforcement director John Morton is fond of boasting about the Secure Communities program, which enables ICE to share fingerprint data with local and state police forces in a supposed quest to crack down on foreign-born criminals.

The Department of Homeland Security touts Secure Communities by sprinkling any description of the program with anecdotes about the worst criminal immigrants, such as a man arrested on assault charges who had previously been deported after a murder conviction. Secure Communities makes it more possible for low level offenses to be punished by deportation, even if the charges are later reduced or dropped. In most of those cases, the punishment will not fit the crime. Deportations and raids are counter-productive and carry a damaging psychological effect that goes well beyond the deported individuals. Tiffany Williams, from the Institute’s Break The Chain campaign, writes:

Approximately five million U.S. citizen children have at least one undocumented parent. A study by the Urban Institute revealed that children are often the real victims of workplace raids — 80 percent of the children of workers in their study sites were less than ten years old. When families experience long separations from other family members, the report noted the effects can include significant economic hardship, psychological stress, and feelings of abandonment that can lead to sustained mental health problems.

When the American Psychological Association recently recommended overhauling our detention centers and social service networks to better protect children and maintain family units, it acknowledged the widespread psychological trauma caused by immigration enforcement — including everything from infant developmental delays to dismal academic performance.

Williams isn’t alone in looking at the larger scope of immigration enforcement. The National Day Laborers Organizing Network has joined with other organizations in suing ICE over Secure Communities.

What’s terrible about Secure Communities is its seeming inevitability. For the average Joe (or average Joes that don’t use their average nickname for speechmaking profit), Secure Communities sounds like a straightforward idea. Obama wants to make it a mandatory national program by 2013. The Homeland Security budget (pdf) for Fiscal Year 2012 includes $276 million for training local and state law enforcement agencies in immigration matters and $184 million for Secure Communities — expanding its reach to 96 percent of jurisdictions across the country.

As Congress scrambles to make budget cuts and a government shutdown looms, lawmakers should axe Secure Communities and its accompanying trainings to get $460 million closer to their goals.

When it comes to immigration reform, real solutions might be counterintuitive. Knowing that most undocumented immigrants currently living in the U.S. have been here more than 10 years, for example, might make people less susceptible to this information-sharing programs that essentially create fast tracks to deportation for hundreds of thousands of people whose lives are already interwoven into the communities to which they migrated.