(Photo courtesy of U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement.)

By Ralph De La Cruz
Florida Center for Investigative Reporting

You have to wonder how many more hits the federal immigration enforcement program Secure Communities can absorb.

On Monday, U.S. District Judge Shira A. Scheindlin of the Southern District of New York ruled that Immigration and Customs Enforcement, the Department of Homeland Security and the Federal Bureau of Investigation need to turn over potentially embarrassing documents about Secure Communties.

The documents, which have been solicited under the Freedom of Information Act by the National Day Labor Organizing Network, are believed to confirm that the agencies have used Secure Communities to detain and deport thousands of non-violent, undocumented immigrants for minor infractions.


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“While the Obama administration boasts of the ‘Secure Communities’ program to win political points with Republicans, it has kept actual policy details nearly secret from Congress, state partners, and the American public. Thankfully, federal courts, not ICE, get the last word,” Pablo Alvarado, director of the National Day Labor Organizing Network, said in a statement.

When Secure Communities was first unveiled, the stated intent of the program was to go after violent and repeat criminals.

“This initiative presents an historic opportunity to transform immigration enforcement and improve public safety by focusing on those aliens who pose the greatest threats to our communities,” Julie L. Myers, Homeland Security assistant secretary for ICE, said in March 2008.

As FCIR readers know, that hasn’t been the standard in Florida. Thomas Francis reported in January that 42 percent of those detained in Florida did not have criminal convictions.

The deportation of non-criminals through Secure Communities was even more pronounced in Florida counties with large immigrant populations.

In Orange County, 63 percent of those detained and deported were non-criminals. In Palm Beach County it was 62 percent, in Broward County 57 percent and in Miami-Dade County 51 percent.

The documents Judge Scheindlin ordered the agencies to give up could support the charge that the agencies made it practically impossible for local governments to opt out of Secure Communities.

The inability to opt out was also exposed by FCIR in January. Francis reported that when President Barack Obama inherited the pilot program from President George W. Bush and massively expanded it, the Department of Homeland Security effectively made it mandatory. If local and state agencies wanted the FBI’s cooperation to conduct everyday business such as background checks, they were required to take part in Secure Communities.

Judging from many of the comments associated with the Francis’ stories, the recent revelations about the deceptive practices of DHS, ICE and FBI won’t bother some Americans who want illegal immigration attacked without restriction.

But critics of Secure Communities counter that the least the federal government can do is be honest about the intent of the program.

Monday’s ruling will make honesty not just a virtue but a requirement.