The Society for the
Study of Social Issues

December 2011 (To print, click the print icon on your browser
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Congressional Hearing: Is Secure Communities Keeping Our Communities Secure?

5 December 2011

On November 30th the Immigration Subcommittee of the House Judiciary Committee held a hearing, Is Secure Communities Keeping Our Communities Secure? Secure Communities is a tool that has been in use by U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) since 2008. It is currently used in thousands of law enforcement jurisdictions in 44 states and the federal government intends for all state jurisdictions to be in compliance by 2013. Under the current arrangement, police departments send fingerprints of jailed suspects to ICE to cross-check with immigration status. If data shows that the suspect is an illegal immigrant then they may be deported. As of September 2011, ICE reported that it had deported 142,000 individuals so far under the program.

The Subcommittee interviewed a panel of witnesses that included:

Mr. Gary Mead
Executive Associate Director
Enforcement and Removal Operations
U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement

Ms. Julie Myers Wood
ICS Consulting, LLC

Sheriff Sam Page
Chief Law Enforcement Officer
Rockingham County, North Carolina

Mr. Arturo Venegas, Jr.
Project Director
Law Enforcement Engagement Initiative


Gary Mead said that Secure Communities is the result of a fiscal directive that authorizes ICE to remove criminal aliens when matches occur between FBI and DHS records of individuals that have been arrested. It is not possible for states to opt out of the program. He said that 95% of those removed by ICE through Secure Communities fell into one of the categories for dangerous crime.

However, the program is in need of many improvements. A recent report from the ICE Secure Communities task force recommended updated guidance on prosecutorial discretion, creation of a public information website, creation of a complaint procedure, and creation of an early warning tool to highlight any signs of racial profiling. In his opinion Secure Communities is a smart, effective enforcement tool and a good way to achieve the U.S.’s overall immigration objectives. Addressing a concern about the affect of the program on the actual security and openness of communities, Mr. Mead said that victims of domestic violence or other criminal activity should not be afraid of getting in touch with the police.

In response to a question from Representative Waters which cited a fact that 93% of those targeted by Secure Communities are Latino, he said that ICE has a fair approach toward the problem and that it is aware of dangers of racial profiling. However, he didn’t explain why the 93% number is so disproportionately high.

Julie Myers Wood said that it is important to remember how far ICE has come. It initially had no way of monitoring criminal activity of immigrants. It also didn’t make full use of technology to process and identify criminal aliens. A key goal of Secure Communities was to create uniformity among local programs that allowed unwise releases to happen. Some challenges remain: needs to know how to use its limited resources. The agency should increase the role of the criminal removal program to make it quicker for convicted criminals to be removed and for those exempted to be rehabilitated well.

In order to improve Secure Communities, she also said that there could be better education about how to avoid racial profiling among police officers. In order to insure long term success, resource and equality issues must be addressed.

Sheriff Sam Page said that Secure Communities was a very welcome part of his work in policing. Many sheriffs in his state, North Carolina say there has been an increase in criminal activity by unauthorized aliens. Prior to 2009 they did not have the access that they have now to tools that allow them to be identified and removed from the country.

Arturo Venegas said that the fact that prosecutorial discretion is being questioned is hard to understand because it is so important to our law enforcement. Immigrants need to know that police are there to protect them not to deport them. He has not been in any immigrant community where there has been acceptance of shielding dangerous immigrants in their communities. Good relationships are essential for public safety and the country.

He said that today, as a result of Secure Communities, the communities are asking why the program is going after people who are not dangerous in addition to the dangerous felons it aims to arrest and deport. Through the creation of Secure Communities nationwide we have empowered people whose racial biases may give them unfair power over people in their community. It was the good intent of Congress that agencies should talk to each other but no accountability measures have been put in place by the federal agencies or the law enforcement agencies with regard to Secure Communities.

A video of the hearing can be found on the House Judiciary Committee website here.

Alex Ingrams
SPSSI Policy Coordinator



Research that produces nothing but books will not suffice.
                                                                                                                    - Kurt Lewin