Despite State Concerns, U.S. Presses Ahead with Secure Communities

On the one year anniversary of New York State's participation in Secure Communities, immigrants rallied to protest the measure

On the one year anniversary of New York State's participation in Secure Communities, immigrants rallied to protest the program. (Photo: Catalina Jaramillo)

This article was originally published in El Diario/La Prensa on August 6. Translated by Sarah Kate Kramer.

NEW YORK—The Department of Homeland Security announced on Friday that it is not necessary for each state to sign an agreement (known as a Memorandum Of Understanding or MOA) with Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) for the Secure Communities program to operate.

The announcement was made by John Sandweg, counselor to Secretary of Homeland Security Janet Napolitano, in a conference call with community organizations from across the country.

Along with the call, DHS sent a letter signed by John Morton, director of ICE, addressed to the governor of Delaware, Jack Markell, dated August 5.

“Once a state or local law enforcement agency voluntarily submits fingerprint data to the federal government, no agreement with the state is legally necessary for one part of the federal government to share it with another part. For this reason, ICE has decided to terminate all existing Secure Communities MOAs,” Morton wrote.

Morton added that Secure Communities will continue to operate in the jurisdictions where governors previously signed MOAs, and will be activated in all areas that have no agreement by 2013.

“Of course, we will notify your office prior to the activation of any new jurisdictions for your state,” Morton wrote in the letter, a version of which was sent to other governors and local officials who had signed MOAs with the agency.

Jacki Esposito, immigration director for the New York Immigration Coalition, explained that this means Secure Communities will continue to operate in New York and that ICE will begin to activate the program in additional jurisdictions within the state, in spite of Governor Andrew Cuomo rescinding the Memorandum of Agreement on June 1.

“Governors in three states have recognized that Secure Communities is fatally flawed. Yet, in a blatant disregard for complaints raised by law enforcement officers and government officials, ICE is moving forward with this program. Today’s announcement also raises questions concerning why DHS ever told states in the first place that they could opt out of the MOAs, then told them they couldn’t opt out, and now that the MOAs are meaningless.  DHS seems to be making it up as they go,” Esposito told El Diario/La Prensa.

Bridget Kessler, of the immigration clinic at the Benjamin N. Cardozo School of Law at Yeshiva University in New York, also argued that it wasn’t clear ICE could enforce the program.

“What is clear is that the latest move by ICE is a tremendous insult to everyone around the country, including the governors of New York, Massachusetts and Illinois, who have expressed serious doubts about Secure Communities, including the negative impact on public safety, civil liberties and the rights of immigrants,” said Kessler.

When contacted on Friday, the governor’s office was unaware of the announcement and did not comment before closing. Neither did the Mayor’s office.

According to Laura W. Murphy,  legal director of the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU), the only law with which DHS is able to support their position—The Enhanced Border Security and Visa Entry Reform Act—doesn’t authorize the federal government to seize state resources in order to inspect individuals in local custody.

“Three years after initiaiting Secure Communities, DHS changed the rules of the game by putting aside all the agreements it negotiated with the states in good faith. Today’s announcement is the latest in a long line of deceptive acts by DHS and an insult to the governors and state leaders who signed these agreements, that today are worth no more than the paper they are printed on,” said Murphy.

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AboutCatalina Jaramillo
Catalina Jaramillo is an independent reporter and radio producer living in Philadelphia. For most of her career, she has worked toward social justice, writing about inequality and building real and virtual spaces for people to communicate. She is a freelance correspondent for the Chilean newspaper La Tercera and Qué Pasa magazine, and has filed stories for Al Dia, WHYY, FSRN, El Universal Domingo, VICE México and more. Catalina produced The Time is Now, a Fi2W climate change workshop for immigrant and ethnic media and is part of the Unidos team. She’s also an adjunct assistant professor for the new Spanish concentration at CUNY Graduate School of Journalism. Follow her @cjaramillo.