(CNSNews.com) – The Obama administration is directing federal immigration officials to use "prosecutorial discretion" in deciding which illegal aliens to detain and deport.
The intention is to kick out the worst offenders and release the all the others – specifically victims of domestic violence and other crimes; witnesses to crimes; or people who are charged with minor traffic violations.
The apparent goal is to make the Secure Communities program more palatable to the states and activists who have criticized it.
But the changes to the Secure Communities program, announced last week, did not mollify critics who are calling for a moratorium. One group called the changes inadequate – amounting to “little more than lipstick on a pig.”
Secure Communities is a voluntary, three-year-old partnership between Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) and state and local law enforcement to identify and deport "criminal aliens.” Under Secure Communities, the fingerprints of every single individual arrested and booked into custody, including U.S. citizens, are checked against immigration records.
Immigration advocates say too many law-abiding undocumented immigrants are being deported under the program. They also say it encourages racial profiling and undermines public safety.
In a June 17 memo, ICE Director John Morton clarified that "it is against ICE policy to initiate removal proceedings against people who are victims or witnesses to a crime."
The same goes for people who are pursuing “legitimate” civil rights complaints and those who are involved in union organizing or who have legitimately complained to authorities about employment discrimination or housing conditions.
Morton said federal officials must “exercise all appropriate discretion on a case-by-case basis” when deciding how to handle such cases to avoid discouraging individuals from reporting crimes or standing up for their civil rights.
Unless the illegal alien poses national security concerns, has a “serious criminal history,” poses a threat to public safety, is a human rights violator or is involved in “significant” immigration fraud, “exercising favorable discretion, such as release from detention and deferral or a stay of removal generally will be appropriate,” Morton said.
ICE also announced it will establish an advisory committee -- including police chiefs, sheriffs, prosecutors, court officials, ICE agents, and immigration advocates – to recommend policies that will stop the deportation of individuals charged with, but not convicted of, minor traffic offenses if they have no other criminal history.
Other changes include a new training program for state and local law enforcement agencies to explain how Secure Communities works with regard to civil rights; and a new complaint system for those who believe their civil rights have been violated.
ICE says Secure Communities is currently on track to be implemented nationwide by 2013 – and “refining the program” will allow ICE to focus its limited resources on the most serious criminals.
ICE noted that the money appropriated by Congress each year is enough to remove only a “limited number” of the more than 10 million illegal immigrants estimated to be in the country.
Critics want program scrapped
So far, three states that joined the Secure Communities program have announced their intention to back out, even though ICE says state and local jurisdictions cannot opt out of Secure Communities. Those states are New York, Illinois and California.
Massachusetts this month announced it would not join the program, although some Massachusetts communities have signed on.
Immigration advocacy groups say the changes announced on Friday do not go far enough: “These changes are nowhere near sufficient to address the well-documented problems with the Secure Communities program that has thus far torn apart countless families across the country by funneling people into a detention and deportation system rife with abuse,” said Andrea Black, executive director of Detention Watch Network. “The flaws with Secure Communities run so deep that the only solution is termination of the program.”
The National Immigration Project said it was “stunned by the inadequacy” of the changes. “ICE should listen to our elected leaders rather than ramming this federal program down the throats of localities that want nothing to do with it,” said Associate Director Paromita Shah.
“Secure Communities is a Frankenstein program – and no amount of makeup can help save our communities from its ravaging effects,” said Pablo Alvarado, director of the National Day Laborer Organizing Network. “Secure Communities is a symbol of President Obama’s approach to immigration – more spin than substance. Nothing less than a cancellation of the program could move this administration towards repairing the trust it has lost with Latino communities across the country.”
“This Administration can no longer continue standing by Secure Communities,” said Margaret Huang, executive director of Rights Working Group. “By continuing to support the program, it is sanctioning racial profiling, eroding the trust local law enforcement agencies have built with communities of color and signaling to the international community that our immigration system does not respect the basic human rights of all persons in our country.”
The activists mentioned above are calling on the Obama administration to end all programs that create partnerships between state and local law enforcement and the Department of Homeland Security; halt the development of the vast data-gathering infrastructure on which Secure Communities depends; and allow state and local jurisdictions to opt-out of Secure Communities.