Sunday, March 11, 2012

DHS Expands Controversial Secure Communities Program

Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano defended the budgetary request to complete the enlargement of the controversial Secure Communities program as part of "smart and effective enforcement of U.S. immigration laws."

She outlined Department of Homeland Security priorities for the 2013 fiscal year during an appearance before the Senate Appropriations Subcommittee on Homeland Security.

Napolitano said DHS' 2013 budget "includes funding to complete nationwide deployment" of the Secure Communities program in fiscal 2013, which ends Sept. 30, 2013.

The S-COMM initiative is aimed at identifying and removing deportable undocumented immigrants who land in state prisons and local jails.

"Nationwide implementation of Secure Communities and other enforcement initiatives, coupled with continued collaboration with DOJ (Department of Justice) ... is expected to continue to increase the number of criminal aliens and other priority individuals who are identified and removed," the secretary told lawmakers.

To criticisms from pro-immigrant groups, DHS insists that 94 percent of those deported through S-COMM are foreigners already convicted of crime, fugitives, repeat criminal offenders, and people detained crossing the border illegally.

The S-COMM program, which requires state and local law enforcement to share all detainees' fingerprints with U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement, has driven deportations of undocumented immigrants to record levels., an advocacy group, cites ICE statistics showing that a mere 22 percent of the nearly 400,000 people deported in the 2011 fiscal year had convictions for serious offenses.

It is only by redefining "criminal removal" to include people who committed minor infractions that authorities can claim criminals account for half of deportees, according to

Widespread opposition has led numerous municipalities and several states to attempt to opt out of S-COMM, though DHS says the program is obligatory.

A committee assembled to the program issued a report last September urging a series of reforms to increase transparency and focus the effort on deporting dangerous criminals.

"ICE should clarify that civil immigration law violators and individuals who are convicted of or charged with misdemeanors or other minor offenses are not top enforcement priorities" in the absence of other indicators that they pose a serious risk, the Task Force on Secure Communities said in its 33-page report.

Specifically, the panel said that the taking of fingerprints under S-COMM should not result in the deportation of an undocumented immigrant detained for a minor traffic infraction.


Immigrant Tracking System Ready Soon

In a statement before the House of Representatives Homeland Security subcommittee, the Department of Homeland Security is now on the final stages of its biometric data system. This new system would be able to keep tabs on immigrants when they leave the United States.

This system has been on the top wish list for security before 9/11. The exit system would be able to track individuals as they leave the country but was seen to be too costly to operate and maintain. During the testimony before the House subcommittee, John Cohen, DHS Deputy Counter Terrorism Coordinator did not disclose the cost of the system but assured members of the House that the system would be up and running “within weeks”.

The country’s inability to track millions of foreign visitors especially if they overstay their visas has been a hot topic in both politics and government. While the current administration has not made deportation of overstaying individuals a priority, those though with other criminal offenses, especially those considered as threats to public and national security, have been deported posthaste.

The new system would be pivotal, as data accumulated from immigrants is collected, stored and made available to law enforcement agencies to be able to identify visa overstays. This is most especially important when the individual entering the country since they pose a threat to national security or public safety.

The Immigration and Customs Enforcement is the agency primarily responsible for deporting illegal immigrants. Their agents comb through visa records to assist in identification of individuals that have overstayed in the country and undertake deportation proceedings considered threats to the national security or community.

As of the latest statistics, 37,000 individuals with expired visas have been deported between 2009 and 2011. There is a current backlog of 1.6 million of suspected overstaying individuals since 2004. Nearly half of these individuals have left the country or applied to change their immigration status. The other half is still under review as these were deemed national security threats as priorities for deportation


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