Ever since Illinois Governor Pat Quinn terminated the agreement between his state and the federal Secure Communities program, pressure has been building for New York Governor Andrew Cuomo to follow suit.
Secure Communities, run by U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE), allows local police to share with federal authorities the digital fingerprints of anyone arrested in the state. The program—often called S-Comm—is designed to find and deport undocumented immigrants who have committed serious crimes like murder, kidnapping and threats to national security.
But as Gov. Quinn noted in his May 4th termination letter to Marc Rapp, Acting Assistant Director of Secure Communities:
“(T)he implementation of the Secure Communities program in Illinois is contrary to the stated purpose of the MOA (Memorandum of Agreement between the state and ICE)… By ICE’s own measure, less than 20 percent of those who have been deported from Illinois under the program have ever been convicted of a serious crime.”
Recently, U.S. Rep. Zoe Lofgren (D-CA) and Sen. Robert Menendez (D-NJ) called for an investigation of ICE and S-Comm and the Congressional Hispanic Caucus urged President Obama to stop S-Comm, saying “fusion of police and immigration functions carries serious risks for public safety, civil rights and community-police relations.” In response, DHS acting Inspector General Charles K. Edwards wrote Rep. Lofgren saying the agency is planning a review of the program in 2012.
According to ICE, the program has been activated in 1,298 jurisdictions in the country (41 percent) and in 27 jurisdictions in New York State (44 percent). The agency plans is to have it fully implemented by 2013.
Immigrant advocates in New York are getting fired up. They want Cuomo to take a stand with Illinois and terminate the state’s agreement to share fingerprint data with ICE. Yet even if Cuomo does so, the move might be largely symbolic. Initially, many states were under the impression they could “opt-out” of Secure Communities if they chose to, but after Quinn’s move, the Department of Homeland Security told Illinois the program is mandatory. The ambiguity on this point from ICE enraged Rep. Lofgren and others, who accused the agency of lying to local governments and members of Congress. Partially in response, ICE Director John Morton blamed private contractor Dan Cadman, who was fired after emails emerged showing he had told New York officials the program was optional.
Cadman, for his part, claims the ambiguity came not from him, but from those higher up the ladder. Responding to Rep. Lofgren, Cadman referred to a letter he wrote to Marc Rapp:
“It comes down to this. ICE painted itself into a corner and needed someone to blame. While my views over the nature of voluntary participation in the program may not accord with yours, I think you will agree after reading my letter that confusion over opting out of Secure Communities has arisen not because of me, but because of the government’s own vacillation, policy shifts and inconsistent public stances.”
Last week, a group of 38 New York legislators sent Gov. Cuomo a letter urging him to stop S-Comm; a group of interfaith religious leaders rallied outside the governor’s office in Manhattan for the cause; and later both the New York State Assembly Puerto Rican/Hispanic Force and U.S. Congress members Nydia Velazquez and Jose Serrano sent Cuomo letters urging him to end the program.
On Wednesday, exactly one year after Gov. Paterson signed the MOA with ICE, a group of immigrant organizations rallied again outside Gov. Cuomo’s office in Manhattan.
“What we’ve been saying to Governor Cuomo is we have to stop it now before it goes any further,” said Mizue Aizeki of the Northern Manhattan Coalition of Immigrants Rights. “We’ve provided the evidence, the momentum nationwide and in the state is growing with, you know, 38 state legislators calling him to terminate the MOA and we say [after] Illinois has taken the stand that it’s just time to New York to do it immediately.”
Aizeki said that the state plays an important role in helping the program expand, and if they refuse to do it, then ICE would have to do more work.
“Some people might say, well what does it matter if you terminate it if they are going to force you to do it anyway? Well, at least then you are taking a position that if you are going to do it, don’t do it with me helping you do it. That’s the position that we feel the state should take, no matter what ICE says,” Aizeki said.
During his campaign for governor, Cuomo told El Diario that he was going to review the program and that local or state authorities should not ”step into the shoes” of the federal government.
“Governor Cuomo has expressed a lot of interest in looking at this issue and he seems to recognize that there are problems with the program, but he has not taken action yet. And what we need is not more assurances that he is going to do something, we need actual action right now,” said Michelle Fei of the Immigrant Defense Project.
Richard Bamberger, Gov. Cuomo’s director of Communications said yesterday that they have been meeting with stakeholders and that the Governor is reviewing the program.
Catalina Jaramillo is a reporter for El Diario/La Prensa.