As of today, Secure Communities is no longer an abstract cloud hovering over immigrants in New York State, it is a tangible reality in two counties close to New York City. Rockland and Putnam are the first two counties to activate the program since New York entered the program in May 2010.
Secure Communities is a data-sharing program between local law enforcement agencies and Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE). A press release issued after Putnam County Sheriff Donald B. Smith signed the agreement with ICE said the initiative would make Putnam County a safer place to live.
The Putnam Sheriff’s office explained the process as follows: “each person of questionable citizenship committed to the Putnam County Correctional Facility (will) be immediately reported to ICE for investigation. This notification is made by email and telephone upon a suspect’s entry into the jail. This is followed by a weekly report sent to ICE.”
Because those with no papers will be immediately reported to ICE, even if they haven’t been convicted of a crime, critics of Secure Communities fear that innocent immigrants, or those facing minor charges, will be rounded up erroneously.
Immigrant advocates had been urging outgoing NY Governor David Paterson to pull out of the program before he left office. On the last day of the year, Paterson signed a new Secure Communities pact with additional language that he hoped would assuage critics’ concerns—it did not. Under the new Memorandum of Agreement, ICE promises to use a “risk-based approach” to determine which immigrants it will target with the additional information from local authorities, but often, that has not been the case when the program rolls out.
Putnam and Rockland are the first counties in New York to activate the program, and unless the state’s new Governor Andrew Cuomo takes this issue on immediately, it’s unlikely to be the last. The federal government has stated that they intend Secure Communities to be activated nationwide by 2013.