Photo: Call to Stop Secure Communities Program
In a victory for plaintiffs the National Day Laborer Organizing Network, the Center for Constitutional Rights, and the Cardozo Law School Immigration Justice Clinic in their Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) lawsuit against Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE), the Department of Homeland Security (DHS), and the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI), the Executive Office of Immigration Review (EOIR), Judge Shira A. Scheindlin of the Southern District of New York ordered the agencies to produce further information concerning whether and how localities may “opt-out” or limit participation participation in Secure Communities.
Secure Communities functions as a deportation dragnet to funnel non-citizens into the ICE detention and removal system. The program automatically runs fingerprints through immigration databases for all people arrested and targets them for detention and deportation. The program currently operates in almost 1,400 jurisdictions in 43 states. Set for expansion nationwide, Massachusetts, Illinois, New York and several local jurisdictions have informed immigration authorities they do not want to participate in the program.
In a strongly worded opinion, the court rejected the agencies’ efforts to withhold documents that would reveal embarrassing or misleading information about Secure Communities. Timely disclosure of these records is especially critical in light of the ongoing public scrutiny of Secure Communities. As a result of the disclosures in this case, public pressure and mounting concerns by public officials, the Office of Inspector General is beginning an investigation today into the agency’s misrepresentations of the Secure Communities opt-out policy and the program’s failure to fulfill its stated mandate.
Simultaneously, DHS has initiated an advisory commission to examine the limited issue of individuals targeted through Secure Communities after being arrested for minor traffic offenses. Today’s order makes clear that the OIG’s review is needed and that the problems with the program run much deeper than the traffic offense-related issues that the DHS-appointed commission is considering.
Said Bridget Kessler, an attorney at the Cardozo Law School Immigration Justice Clinic, “Today, the court has sent a strong message that the public’s interest in government transparency outweighs the government’s desire to save face. Our government officials cannot use laws meant to ensure transparency to withhold information from the public, especially if the only conceivable reason for preventing the release of the information is that it might be embarrassing or provide evidence of government misconduct.”