This post about Secure Communities is somewhat timely for me.
A few weeks ago, I was driving through the city of Ontario, California and was stopped in a police dragnet that did not seem to be a “sobriety checkpoint”. Prior to reaching the dragnet, I did see people on the street with signs that spelled, “Reten” warning people about the police roadblock ahead. When I reached the police stop, I was asked for my driver’s license, which I provided to the officer, and then he let me go through. I also asked the officer if this stop was part of the Secure Communities program, and he said that he did not know if it was but that the City was getting money from the federal government to do it. To my immediate right, there was a group of about a dozen people and their cars pulled off to the side who were visibly upset. I’m going to assume that these people did not have licenses and/or any other documentation to produce and were likely headed to immigration detention.
In nearby Pomona, California, these sort of stops have been happening regularly, and community activists have been speaking out and organizing people who try to warn people with the “Reten” signs. Some people feel that these stops are excessive and unjust because the police departments get to impound cars and make money off of the impound fees. Additionally, tow yards earn money for holding the vehicles that are impounded. Here is a video explaining what is happening in this locality:
In Chicago and Cook County, the Department of Homeland Security has been having difficulties enforcing this Secure Communities program. The program was intended to capture undocumented immigrants with criminal records, but that isn’t the case. The New York Times reports the following:
“Chicago and Cook County were among several localities nationwide that refused to enroll in the program, which involves sharing fingerprints of anyone arrested with the Department of Homeland Security. Chicago and Cook County cited so-called sanctuary ordinances that prohibit local officials from involvement in immigration enforcement.
The Secure Communities program is in effect in more than 1,000 jurisdictions in 40 states, including Illinois. The federal agency plans to take it nationwide by 2013 and says it does not need local approval to do so.
E-mails and other documents — obtained through a Freedom of Information Act request by the National Day Laborer Organizing Network, an immigrant-rights group — show that immigration officials saw Chicago and Cook County among the cities to be test cases for whether localities are allowed to opt out of the program.
Secure Communities is meant to find and deport illegal immigrants found guilty of serious crimes. But the immigration agency’s statistics through February 2011 show that 32 percent of immigrants put into deportation proceedings in Illinois had no criminal convictions. Nationwide, 28 percent had no criminal record.
“The original concept was to get the really bad people out of the country, but are those the only ones you’re getting?” Mr. Dart said. “I could never get a straight answer. If it’s getting murderers and rapists, we’re all for that, but if you’re talking about people pulled over because their license plate isn’t up to date — my staff kept coming back to me saying we never got clarification.””
The problem is that Secure Communities in many ways makes people feel less secure and fearful of the police or even inconvenienced for having to stop and produce a license for doing absolutely nothing but following the law. The program also contributes to the breaking up of families when undocumented people are stopped, detained and deported but leave behind citizen children and other dependents.