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Sunday, November 28, 2010

Study challenges Secured Communities motivations

By Maria Michalos
Washington Square News
Published November 26, 2010

It shouldn't come as a surprise to most that the purpose of the Department of Homeland Security is to do just as its title suggests, to protect our nation from the hands of potential harm. For the federal government, that seems to necessitate instating an ambiguous program devoted to deporting illegal immigrants held on criminal charges, regardless of the nature of the crime committed.

New York State is in the midst of a debate over the controversial federal immigration enforcement program known as Secured Communities — a program that requires local police to send fingerprints of every individual arrested to the Department of Homeland Security. A rise in deportations over the last year can be attributed to the program that has insidiously found its way into over 34 states and 700 jurisdictions.

While Homeland Security contends that the program's function is to target "dangerous" criminals, a study conducted by the research group Justice Strategies has determined otherwise. The study discovered no association between the level of the offense committed and the targeted deportation at New York City's primary jail on Rikers Island.

According to the study, more than a quarter of the people who are tagged for deportation by Homeland Security agents have misdemeanors or violations, quite the antithesis to the pretense provided to the public. The rational question that remains posed, and left conveniently unanswered by agents, is why the misleading facts? Is it unreasonable to expect honesty from those who are supposedly meant to foster security?

Homeland Security secretary Janet Napolitano has declared that the program will become a requirement for the entire nation by 2013, which posits yet another unanswered question: Why is Homeland Security trying to embed itself in every jail throughout the country? The inability to connect loose ends leaves one to wonder if this system is another ploy to gather immigrants who haven't necessarily committed a serious crime so as to deport them quickly and quietly. In fact, these alleged "criminals" get identified in less than 24 hours, which leaves little room for a thorough investigation, if any.

The method of deciding whom federal authorities deport is, essentially, arbitrary. Aarti Shahani of Justice Strategies confirms this notion by stating that the concluding data "suggests that there's not a system in place to identify people based on risk, and ICE is simply tagging people who show up." Immigration officers at Rikers Island place "detainers" on inmates without citizenship; according to The New York Times, these detainers enable jail officials to retain inmates for 48 hours beyond their expected release, when they are then placed into the hands of immigration custody who will capriciously choose to deport these "felons."

Of the 1,215 noncitizen inmates at Rikers who were charged with drug related offenses, Justice Strategies determined that 45 percent were given detainers and 34 percent of those with the gravest allegations were given detainers, a confounding analysis given that inmates lack any reason to raise bail, because they will inevitably find themselves wrapped in the arms of immigration authorities.

The impact of instating such a program in New York State, home to more than three million immigrants, will unequivocally be cumbersome, and potentially compromise our immigrant-friendly image. What is even more troubling is the uncertainty of the program itself and its underlying motives. Federal authorities have yet to come to an agreement on whether the program will be mandatory, rendering a dubious impression. Governor David Paterson may have agreed on the program's implementation, but it's up to whistle blowers and city council members to convince the governor of Secure Communities' implications.

Maria Michalos is a contributing columnist. E-mail responses to