The Secure Communities program that took effect in Connecticut last week has met overwhelming resistance from citizens, scholars and city officials. The program — under which the FBI must share fingerprints of anyone arrested with Immigrations and Customs Enforcement for review, and ICE may in turn request that local prisons detain suspects — has prompted a number of concerns. Governor Dannel Malloy, Mayor John DeStefano Jr. and the Yale Law School’s Worker and Immigration Rights Advocacy Clinic have joined immigration activists in questioning the program on constitutional and practical grounds. They are right to be concerned.
New Haven has a turbulent history of federal immigration enforcement. A 2007 ICE raid in Fair Haven increased fear among the city’s Hispanic population. Citizens know that New Haven police do not often deport illegal immigrants. Enforcing Secure Communities may drive a wedge between citizens and police, threatening the community policing new NHPD Chief Dean Esserman has promised to return to the city.
Secure Communities is supposed to be used to deport dangerous criminals. Instead, as a September 2011 Department of Homeland Security report acknowledged, immigrants targeted by ICE through the program have thus far mostly been arrested for minor crimes, if any. Although most deported immigrants indeed live in the country illegally, Secure Communities may lead to undue detention. Moreover, deporting people who have committed no additional offenses is a misguided use of funds and resources.
Still more worrisome is that some police departments have checked fingerprints against an outdated list, leading to deportation of naturalized citizens. If the feds are going to tell the New Haven Police Department how to handle immigration enforcement, they ought to have a handle on how immigrants interact with New Haven officials. But in a telling gaffe, ICE recently sent an email about the program to former police chief Frank Limon, who hasn’t been in office — or in town — since October. A program so potentially damaging to police relations would be better handled by an agency more in touch with the city.
States have some power to control the program’s execution. New York, Illinois and Massachusetts have refused to enforce the federal mandate, which does not provide states with funds to enforce ICE detention. Connecticut could follow in their footsteps.
Malloy said he will handle enforcement of Secure Communities on a case-by-case basis. We applaud that decision. In some cases, the program may remove criminals from New Haven. In others, though, it may do little but undermine tenuous relationships between police officers and the communities they serve.
DeStefano has called Secure Communities “flawed and in need of correction” because it fails to target repeat offenders. Because the program is executed by the state, DeStefano can do little on his own to keep it out of New Haven. But if New Haven is forced into the program, at least DeStefano has shown he cares about his constituents.
The Law School clinic filed a class action lawsuit earlier this month to challenge Secure Communities’ constitutionality. We’re glad to see a murky program subject to scrutiny. Local lawyers’ engagement with the federal policy is a step towards reasserting local control.
Last week, New Haveners of all stripes banded together in objection to Secure Communities. At this point, perhaps that sort of clear — if cautious — united action is the best way to secure a community.