Multi-American | How immigrants are redefining 'American' in Southern California

Backlash over former NCLR official's defense of Secure Communities

Protesters in Los Angeles, August 15, 2011
Protesters in Los Angeles, August 15, 2011
Photo by Corey Moore/KPCC

UPDATE: In a new White House blog post, Muñoz goes on to clarify the White House's deportation policies in light of an announcement this afternoon from DHS that, if it works as planned, should spare many "low priority" potential deportees. She writes:

Today, they announced that they are strengthening their ability to target criminals even further by making sure they are not focusing our resources on deporting people who are low priorities for deportation. This includes individuals such as young people who were brought to this country as small children, and who know no other home. It also includes individuals such as military veterans and the spouses of active-duty military personnel.

More details soon on what the changes announced entail.

A recent Obama administration defense of the controversial Secure Communities immigration enforcement program has drawn a backlash, but this time, it has as much to do with who provided the defense as what was said.

On Tuesday, the White House's director of intergovernmental affairs Cecilia Muñoz wrote in the White House blog that the Secure Communities program, which allows the fingerprints of people booked into local jails to be shared with immigration officials, is central to the administration's immigration enforcement strategy.

Muñoz added that the program is "the primary reason that the deportation statistics show a dramatic increase in the number of criminals deported from the United States." Along with it she posted these deportation statistics:

  • There was a greater than 70% increase in the deportation of those with criminal records from FY2008 to FY2010, and a decrease of those without criminal records.

  • Today more than half of all removals are people with criminal records.

  • And among those removed who had no criminal records, more than two thirds were either apprehended as they crossed the border, were recent arrivals, or were repeat violators of immigration law, meaning that they had previously been deported.

It's not an unfamiliar message, along the same lines as what has been stated by other administration officials. Part of what has caused the backlash is that Muñoz is former vice president of the National Council of La Raza, which advocates for immigrant-friendly policy reforms. Muñoz joined Obama's staff shortly after he was elected in 2008.

Muñoz was also quoted yesterday in a New York Times story, calling Secure Communities "the best tool we enforce the law in the best possible way" and saying the president has no option but to enforce the law while pushing for broader reforms.

Since, the reaction from some immigrant advocates has been as critical of Muñoz's stance on the program as it is of the administration's statistics, which critics argue count low-level offenders, including traffic violators, among those with criminal records deported. Secure Communities in particular has been subject to vocal opposition lately, with its critics saying it casts a much wider net than intended.

Mario Solis-Marich of the MarioWire blog wrote:

Mr. President and Ms. Munoz: there is right and wrong and our community has been wronged. Mr. President you must mend fences immediately. Ms. Munoz must apologize and then resign.

Felipe Matos, an undocumented student activist, wrote on Firedoglake:
Munoz is lumping together anyone who has ever been convicted of a crime, including small-time traffic offenders. People who have raped or committed murder are a lot different than people booked for driving without a license, and to insinuate otherwise is shameful.

Sadly, Munoz’ post is just one example of the Administrations’ fuzzy math on immigration and its growing desperation not to lose Latino votes.

Some reactions have been more tempered. Javier Morillo, president of a Service Employees International Union local 26 in Minnosota, tweeted:
I have a lot of respect for Cecilia Munoz--disappointed she continues to defend indefensible #immigration policies

Muñoz discussed Secure Communities earlier this week as a guest on the Univision network's Fernando Espuelas radio talk show, during which she emphasized that the administration's priority is to deport people with serious criminal histories.

She acknowledged the concerns surrounding the program, saying that the guidelines established in a June 17 memo from ICE addressed some of these:

"They have put some important procedures in place to minimize the extent to which people who are not our enforcment priority, people who are not serious criminals, get caught up in this system,"  Muñoz said.

There have been protests in several cities calling for an end to Secure Communities recently, after ICE director John Morton sent a letter to governors earlier this month terminating states' agreements to participate. Three states had been attempting to withdraw from the program; the federal government has stated that participation is mandatory, and no agreements are needed.