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Protesters with the Coalition for Humane Immigrant Rights of Los Angeles (CHIRLA) hold signs during an anti-Secure Communities program demonstration in L.A. last year.
The federal immigration enforcement program supported by Sheriff Lee Baca and used in county jails has faced growing local opposition in the past two years. Now Secure Communities is facing scrutiny from the feds themselves.
Two recent internal reports question whether the Department failed to communicate early on whether states and counties had any choice in joining Secure Communities. Another addresses whether the enforcement program has been effective.
The reports were a response to Congresswoman Zoe Lofgren from San Jose, a critic of the program.
The way Secure Communities works is simple: when a person is booked into county jail, the detainee’s fingerprint information is shared with immigration authorities. If the person is in the country illegally, deportation proceedings could begin immediately.
The Department of Homeland Security launched Secure Communities in 2008 in only 14 counties, including Southern California, with plans to expand it to every county in the nation by early 2013. But since its launch, the program has been plagued by controversy.
While it has been responsible for a sharp rise in deportations of criminal immigrants, it's also deported huge numbers of unauthorized immigrants with no criminal records — some who have U.S.-born children. In L.A., as well as in other communities around the country, Secure Communities has led to many immigrants hesitating to report crimes to police in fear of having their status questioned.
In its defense, the Department of Homeland Security says the agency badly handled the expansion of Secure Communities — but it has learned some lessons and continues to stand behind the program.