The majority of people arrested in the Secure Communities program are being jailed without bond, without access to a lawyer and without a court hearing, according to a new report from Berkeley University, the first-ever in-depth study.
Secure Communities by the Numbers: An Analysis of Demographics and Due Process [PDF] finds that there have been thousands of wrongful arrests of U.S. citizens and tens of thousands of families are being split apart.
The data was obtained through the Freedom of Information Act. The controversial program relies on the cooperation of local law enforcement and a number of localities have rejected cooperation. Fingerprints from individuals booked into local jails — many on minor infractions — are sent to the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) to be checked. Effectively, federal immigration checks are run on everyone booked into a local jail.
Aarti Kohli, director of immigration policy at the Warren Institute and lead author of the report, said in a press statement announcing the report:
“The results are disturbing because they point to a system that is funneling people towards deportation without due process. Based on our findings, we recommend that the Department of Homeland Security suspend the program until the government addresses the issues we identify, particularly wrongful U.S. citizen arrests, potential racial profiling, and lack of discretion in detention.”
Lisa Chavez, Senior Research Associate at the Warren Institute and a co-author adds:
“We had unprecedented access to federal data on ICE [Immigration and Customs Enforcement] arrests, detentions, and deportations of people who are pulled in through Secure Communities. By following the numbers, we were able to construct a picture of who is being arrested and what happens to them after their immigration arrest.”
Key findings from the report include:
- Approximately 3,600 United States citizens have been arrested by ICE through the Secure Communities program even though citizens, by definition, should not be subject to immigration detention;
- Approximately 88,000 families containing U.S. citizens have been affected by Secure Communities through the immigration arrest of a family member;
- Latinos comprise 93% of individuals arrested through Secure Communities though they only comprise 77% of the undocumented population in the United States;
- Only 52% of individuals arrested through Secure Communities were slated to appear before an immigration judge;
- Only 24% of the individuals arrested through Secure Communities who did have an immigration hearing were represented by an attorney. By contrast, 40% of all immigration court respondents have counsel;
- Only 2% of non-citizens arrested through Secure Communities are granted relief from deportation by an immigration judge. By contrast, 14% of all immigration court respondents are granted relief;
- A large majority (83%) of people arrested through Secure Communities is held in ICE detention as compared with an overall DHS immigration detention rate of 62%. ICE does not appear to be exercising discretion when deciding whether or not to detain Secure Communities arrestees.
Says professor Peter L. Markowitz, director of the Kathryn O. Greenberg Immigration Justice Clinic at Cardozo School of Law, a co-author of the report:
“The wrongful arrest of thousands of U.S. citizens demonstrates that, too often, ICE’s protocol is arrest first, investigate second. This flies in the face of the Constitution. With these numbers finally public, ICE must confront the deep flaws in the program that have led to these wrongful arrests and to the disproportionate targeting of young Latino men.”
“The government’s own data has consistently shown that most of the people impacted by this program have no criminal record or are low-level offenders. To lock these people up in detention centers without access to attorneys or an opportunity to see a judge is undemocratic,” said Kohli.
He told the New York Times:
“If this is the quality of due process with regard to U.S. citizens we should all be terrified with regard to immigrants who are targets of immigration enforcement.”
The report recommends:
- Increasing transparency of the program;
- Adding safeguards to prevent U.S. citizen arrests;
- Investigating the evidence of racial profiling of Latinos;
- Providing access to government-appointed legal counsel; and
- Suspending the program until these recommendations are addressed.
Photo credit:Say No to Secure Communities Program