Chalk one up for Illinois Gov. Pat Quinn, who, bravely swimming against the tide, tried to pull his state out of Secure Communities, the controversial federal mass deportation program.
“We think this is a very important decision,” said Javier Valdés, of Make the Road New York. “It advances the conversation, gives new hope to immigrants and opens up space for other governors to take similar steps.”
It would be great if Gov. Cuomo were to travel the same path. But it may not be that easy to opt out of the program for either Quinn or Cuomo.
After repeatedly telling local and state governments the program was voluntary, Department of Homeland Security officials now insist participation is mandatory.
This prompted Rep. Zoe Lofgren (D-Calif.) to demand an investigation into what she said are efforts by Immigration and Customs Enforcement and Homeland Security officials to mislead local and state governments and members of Congress about whether Secure Communities was voluntary and whom it would target.
Last May, then-Gov. David Paterson signed a Memorandum of Agreement (MOA) – which includes a termination clause – with Homeland Security to bring Secure Communities to New York. Forty other states, Illinois included, have also signed MOAs.
Quinn’s letter notifying ICE of his decision, says the mandatory implementation of the Secure Communities program “is contrary to the stated purpose of the MOA.”
Despite the program’s stated mission of focusing on “convicted dangerous criminals,” it is widely used to deport people still presumed innocent or who have committed minor offenses.
By ICE’s own measure, less than 20% of those who have been deported from Illinois under the program have ever been convicted of a serious crime.
In New York State, nearly 3,500 immigrants were tagged for deportation through Secure Communities in January and February alone.
Valdés, who says his group is eager to work with Cuomo to find ways to rescind this agreement, thinks there is a good chance the governor will do it.
“He promised to revisit Secure Communities during his campaign,” Valdés said.
The federal program works by checking the fingerprints of everyone arrested against immigration records. It has been responsible for deporting hundreds of innocent people and the cruel separation of many immigrant families. In a city like New York the program is widely despised.
ICE records obtained through a Freedom of Information Act request show that nearly 79% of individuals deported nationally through the program from October 2008 through June 2010 had no criminal record or were arrested for minor offenses.
The Congressional Hispanic Caucus on Thursday asked President Obama to freeze Secure Communities – one day after Illinois attempted to pull out altogether.
Police Commissioner Raymond Kelly has expressed concern the deportation program could discourage immigrant victims and witnesses from talking to the NYPD.
“We want people to feel free to contact the police, to walk into police stations, communicate with the police,” he said.
Secure Communities is an indiscriminate deportation program that victimizes hardworking immigrants and makes New York more dangerous by erecting a wall of mistrust between its immigrant population and local authorities. The sooner the state pulls out the better.
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