(Sean Whaley/Nevada News Bureau) – A Nevada activist group is criticizing a decision by U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) to terminate all of its agreements with states regarding the operation of its “Secure Communities” program.
The information sharing program identifies criminal aliens for prosecution and deportation.
The Progressive Leadership Alliance of Nevada (PLAN) “joins the chorus of condemnations” to the decision of the U.S. Department of Homeland Security to unilaterally annul ICE’s agreements with states, including Nevada, the group said in a statement issued Wednesday.
ICE Director John Morton on Friday terminated all of the agreements with the states to “clarify that a memorandum of agreement between ICE and a state is not required to operate Secure Communities for any jurisdiction.”
“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,” a statement from the agency said.
ICE said the program is mandatory, not voluntary.
In the letter to governors, Morton said the decision will have no effect on the operation of the program in the states where it is being operated.
Secure Communities is operating in 14 of Nevada’s 17 counties. The first to join was Washoe County in July 2010. White Pine, Eureka and Esmeralda counties are not yet participating. According to the agency, 785 convicted criminal aliens have been apprehended in Nevada since the program began, with 341 being removed from the U.S.
Chris Perry, director of the Nevada Department of Public Safety, said through a spokeswoman that the letter has been received but the agency is still evaluating what it means to the state’s Secure Communities program.
Mario DelaRosa, immigrant rights organizer with PLAN, said in the statement: “Once again DHS is trying to rule by mandate. This is not Libya, where security agencies make up the rules as they go along. Local law enforcement agencies bear the costs of the program, including the erosion of trust between local police and immigrant communities that occurs whenever police engage in federal immigration enforcement.”
In a telephone interview, he said: “This is a response to numerous state leaders, governors, who have openly expressed serious doubts about this program.”
DelaRosa said about 55 percent of those people deported from Washoe County, and 73 percent from Clark County, committed either no crime or a minor crime. Families are being separated, he said.
“That is causing a crisis in the immigrant community,” DelaRosa said.
The ACLU of Nevada is also critical of the move.
Rebecca Gasca, legislative and policy director for the organization, said the decision is a complete about face.
“What the Obama administration should have done is halt the program,” she said. “It’s a complete surprise and an unfortunate one.”
The Secure Communities program is fraught with civil rights problems, including allegations of racial profiling and fears in the immigrant community of reporting crimes, Gasca said. There is also a lack of training and standards, she said.
Several states, most recently Massachusetts in June, have made efforts to reject the program because of the problems, she said.
“The lack of the (memorandum of understanding) makes it even worse because there is no accountability between the local jurisdictions and DHS,” Gasca said.
The statement from ICE said: “Secure Communities promotes the agency’s top enforcement priority of finding and removing those who are unlawfully present or otherwise removable and have criminal convictions by relying on an already-existing federal information-sharing program, consisting of the sharing of biometric data between two federal law enforcement agencies – DHS and the FBI.
“ICE continues to work with its law enforcement partners across the country to responsibly and effectively implement this federal information sharing capability and plans to reach complete nationwide activation by 2013,” the statement concluded.
ICE is using the Secure Communities capability in 1,508 jurisdictions in 43 states and one U.S. territory as of Aug. 2.