Immigration announces changes to Secure Communities

June 20, 2011 § 1 Comment

(NOTE: We’ve heard this before. Let’s see what really happens. Proceed with care.)

John Morton, head of Immigration and Customs Enforcement, said the Secure Communities deportation program would continue to expand as planned in order to be operating nationwide by 2013, despite criticism from many police chiefs and governors. But in making corrections, Morton acknowledged local resistance to an effort that is central to President Obama’s approach to controlling illegal immigration. Critics said the program was casting too wide a net and had strayed from its goal of bolstering public safety by expelling immigrants who committed the most dangerous crimes. Morton issued a memo that expanded the factors immigration authorities can take into account in deciding to defer or cancel deportations. Agents are now formally urged to consider how long an illegal immigrant has been in the US. In practice, the memo gives immigration agents authority to postpone or cancel deportations of illegal immigrant students who might have been eligible for legal status under a bill stalled in Congress known as the Dream Act. Authorities are also instructed to give “particular care and consideration” to veterans and active duty members of the military, especially if they have been in combat, and to their close relatives. Morton also expanded the authority of federal lawyers in immigration courts to dismiss deportation proceedings against immigrants without serious criminal records. Under Secure Communities, tens of thousands of immigrants who were here illegally but had not been convicted of any crime were detained by local law enforcement and swept into deportation proceedings. Until now, once immigration agents in the field had started a deportation, government lawyers had little authority to decide which cases were worth pursuing in immigration court. Many immigration violations are civil, not criminal, offenses. In Secure Communities, fingerprints of everyone who is booked into jail are checked against FBI databases, as has long been routine, and also against Homeland Security databases, which record immigration violations. Immigration officials report results of fingerprint checks back to the arresting police and determine whether to detain immigrants for deportation. Morton also said he would form an advisory commission of police chiefs, sheriffs, state and local prosecutors, immigration agents, and immigrant advocates. The first task of the commission would be to assess another fix Morton is considering. Currently all immigrants who are flagged in a Secure Communities fingerprint check can be detained for deportation by Immigration from the time they are first booked into jail. Morton said that under his proposal, illegal immigrants who were arrested for minor traffic offenses, like driving without a license, and other minor misdemeanors, would not be detained for deportation until they were convicted of those crimes. Morton also issued new guidelines he said would ensure that illegal immigrants detained by the police who were victims of domestic violence and witnesses to crimes would not be deported. (NY Times excerpts)

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