A report on the Department of Homeland Security’s “Secure Communities” immigration enforcement program by the American Immigration Lawyers Association (AILA) finds that in 127 cases, the DHS took action against illegal immigrants for minor offenses, despite calling for a focus on “highest enforcement priorities” like convicted felons or national security threats.
In the new report, called “Immigration Enforcement Off Target: Minor Offenses With Major Consequences,” the AILA describes anecdotal cases, provided by its members who represent the illegal immigrants in question. In these cases, agents for Immigrations and Customs Enforcement (ICE) were called by local police to pick up suspected illegal immigrants after they had committed minor infractions — even though they had no criminal records.
In one case, according to the AILA, ICE was called on someone who turned right on a red light. In another, a man without a criminal record was pulled over and ticketed for driving without a license — but was sent to immigration detention after ICE was notified. A 19-year old in California was taken to Arizona when ICE picked him up after he was carded — though according to the AILA his friends were drinking but he was not. In other cases, ICE was called on individuals pulled over for broken headlights or a burned out license plate.
“These people are not the high priority, public safety threats this Administration says it’s targeting,” said AILA President Eleanor Pelta in a statement. “DHS should not be wasting resources pursuing low priority cases.”
The relationship between local law enforcement and federal agents has recently been scrutinized because of Homeland Security’s “Secure Communities” program, which is supposed to give federal authorities access to each state’s fingerprint database for anyone arrested and booked in the state. Under the program, if someone is found to be in the country illegally, they can be deported.
Until recently, the federal government needed the signature of the state’s governor before the information-sharing could begin, but this month DHS announced that states could no longer opt out of the program. Some states like New York, Massachusetts, Illinois and California have opposed the program because thousands of people — around 29,000 since 2008, according to the WSJ — have been deported despite having no criminal records.
The report was released before DHS announced that it would do a case-by-case review of the current 300,000 deportation cases, and halt many of the proceedings for low-priority illegal immigrants like students or servicemen and women.