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Task force deems Secure Communities insecure, Austin cries out

Task force deems Secure Communities insecure, Austin cries out

A federal task force was recently charged with reviewing the Secure Communities program. And as organizations and citizens alike have long suspected, the task force found that the controversial program actually has an adverse impact on community policing.

The task force’s report was completed this past Friday and released to the Department of Homeland Security. Along with finding that Secure Communities only increases crime, the report also claims that immigrants will be less willing to trust their local police.

Amid national public scrutiny, the Austin non-profit community is intent on halting this flawed program.

As CultureMap reported last month, the Secure Communities program creates the infrastructure for local police to pull over and arrest anyone they suspect to be an undocumented immigrant. Then local police can hold the detained for up to 48 hours, run their fingerprints through the national database, and, if the detained are not U.S. citizens, the local police can transfer them into deportation proceedings.

Secure Communities was intended to deport serious criminals, and thus keep our communities more “secure.” But Austin-based organizations claim the program is problematic, and makes our communities far from it.

An ACLU letter to the Task Force writes, “An ill-conceived program from the start, S-Comm entangles local law enforcement agencies with the enforcement of federal immigration laws, which inevitably drives a wedge between our police officers and those they are sworn to serve.”

And this troubling entanglement has led to a great mistrust in law enforcement.

 Under S-Comm, victims of domestic violence or human trafficking will be less likely to trust law enforcement, less likely to report serious crimes, and thus go unnoticed for fear of being deported themselves. 

Executive Director of the Austin Immigrant Rights Coalition Esther Reyes told CultureMap that the UT student who is now in deportation proceedings has a brother whose truck was stolen. He didn’t report it to the police, because he now doesn’t trust the police.

This case isn’t an isolated incident. Under S-Comm, victims of domestic violence or human trafficking will be less likely to trust law enforcement, less likely to report serious crimes, and thus go unnoticed for fear of being deported themselves.

Worse than leaving the Austin community afraid of local law enforcement, the Task Force found that S-Comm does not even target the serious criminals it meant to.

According to ICE’s own figures, “fully three-quarters of those deported under S-Comm did not meet ICE’s own standard as dangerous aliens; indeed, nearly 25% of those deported were never convicted of any crime, much less a violent one.”

The ACLU’s Advocacy and Policy Counsel Krystal Gomez told me that one reason the program is so flawed is that “some policy officers don’t even know what S-Comm is.” She elaborates that there is a clear lack of communication and education from ICE to local law enforcement.

The result is that, according to Esther Reyes, some local police authorities will take immigrants to jail, but others won’t. And without a uniform policy, local law enforcement officials are left to their own devices.

Considering the growing fervor against the program, Austin organizations are hosting a series of events, reports, and campaigns to ensure that the Austin community stands up for true Secure Communities.

Reyes claims that now is the perfect time to act against S-Comm. As now the program is “in a stage of limbo,” where even though ICE continues to ignore the public’s concerns, the program has yet to be fully institutionalized.

The Austin Immigrant Rights Coalition and the ACLU are both members of a coalition to end Secure Communities. This coalition seeks to agitate and educate the Austin community, and spur it into action.

This evening the coalition will host a forum to do just that. It will reveal some pretty egregious facts about the consequences of S-Comm, host testimony from immigrants negatively affected by the program, and recruit more organizations to join the coalition. 

Following the forum, the coalition will convene a second time in October to gather Austin immigrant community members. They also plan to release an ethnographic report in the coming weeks.

As Gomez states, “we hope to build a ground of opposition” to build a stronger coalition and get more people involved. She concludes that with more resources come “more bodies, more brains, more support.”

Austin Photo Set: News_Nicole Kreisberg_Scomm_September 2011_end s comm