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Report: Secure Communities affects U.S. citizens, too

Art by José Luís Agapito/Flickr (Creative Commons)

A new report examining Secure Communities, the immigration enforcement program partly responsible for the Obama administration's record number of deportations, reveals some of the demographics, immigration status, and other key details about who has been arrested and deported under the program since it began rolling out in 2008.

Secure Communities allows for the fingerprints of people booked into local jails to be shared with immigration officials, who are notified when prints match immigration records. The idea is to net undocumented immigrants and deportable legal residents with criminal records, a stated goal of the Obama administration.

But as noted in the report by the UC Berkeley Law School, U.S. citizens are affected by the program in more ways than one might think. Citizens have been arrested, and to a much larger degree, have had family members deported. According to the report, nearly 40 percent of the people arrested by immigration authorities under Secure Communities have been the spouses or parents of U.S. citizens.

From a list of key findings:

• Approximately 3,600 United States citizens have been arrested by ICE through the Secure Communities program.

• More than one-third (39%) of individuals arrested through Secure Communities report that they have a U.S. citizen spouse or child, meaning that approximately 88,000 families with U.S. citizen members have been impacted by Secure Communities.

Among the other key findings: As reported in the New York Times, Latinos are disproportionately affected, with a greater percentage of Latinos arrested through Secure Communities than there are Latino undocumented immigrants (though it's worth noting that legal U.S. residents with criminal offenses may also be arrested and deported). From the report:
• Latinos comprise 93% of individuals arrested through Secure Communities though they only comprise 77% of the undocumented population in the United States.

Other findings from the report, which also examined due process issues:
• Only 52% of individuals arrested through Secure Communities are slated to have a hearing before an immigration judge.

• Only 24% of individuals arrested through Secure Communities and who had immigration hearings had an attorney compared to 41% of all immigration court respondents who have counsel.

• Only 2% of non-citizens arrested through Secure Communities are granted relief from deportation by an immigration judge as compared to 14% of all immigration court respondents who are granted relief.

• A large majority (83%) of people arrested through Secure Communities is placed in ICE detention as compared with an overall DHS immigration deten-tion rate of 62%, and ICE does not appear to be exercising discretion based on its own prioritization system when deciding whether or not to detain an individual.

Yesterday, U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement announced that close to 400,000 people were deported in federal fiscal year 2011, which ended Sept. 30. This breaks the previous year's record for the most deportations in U.S. history. Nearly 55 percent of those deported in the past year had criminal records, some more serious than others. The number of people with criminal records deported is up 89 percent from three years ago, according to the agency.

The Obama administration has credited Secure Communities and 287(g), another program in which local law enforcement officials cooperate with the federal government, with rounding up more people with criminal records for deportation.

But critics of this approach say that programs like Secure Communities also land many non-criminals and low-level offenders in deportation proceedings, and that the program undermines local law enforcement efforts by eroding immigrant communities' trust in police.