Today, the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) announced that it would not adopt major recommendations made by the task force established by the agency last year. According to DHS Counselor to Secretary Napolitano, John Sandweg, the agency will continue to pursue low-level offenders, including immigrants convicted of minor traffic offenses. However, for individuals arrested solely for minor traffic offenses, who have not previously been convicted of other crimes and do not fall within any of ICE’s enforcement priorities, ICE will only consider commencing enforcement action upon conviction for the minor traffic offense. Today’s announcement, comes as a disappointment to immigration advocates who, along with state and local officials across the country, including Governor Andrew Cuomo and members of Congress; local law enforcement agencies and victims’ rights groups, have for two years voiced their opposition to the program.
This announcement came in response to a September 2011 report on S-Comm from the DHS task force; the report was harshly critical of the program, finding that S-Comm had an adverse impact on community policing because it discourages immigrant witnesses and crime victims from reporting crime and cooperating with police. Arturo Venegas, the former police chief of Sacramento, said the program was “deeply flawed” and was “undermining public safety.” Some of the task force’s recommendations include suspension pending major reforms, or outright termination of the program, better training for ICE personnel, and calls for ICE to provide legal authority for its claim that states’ participation in the program is mandatory.
“By disregarding the major recommendations by its own task force, DHS has failed to address our concerns associated with this misguided program,” said Chung-Wha Hong, executive director of the New York Immigration Coalition. “We remain deeply troubled by the Administration’s rapid roll-out of a program that has been at the center of so much controversy.”
Opponents have long charged that S-Comm, which requires state and local jails to provide fingerprints to Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE), the department within DHS that enforces immigration law, on any person booked into custody—regardless of the seriousness or ultimate outcome of their charges—is undermining community safety and infringing on civil rights and civil liberties. New York, Illinois and Massachusetts, as well as several cities throughout the country, have demanded to be removed from the program, but the federal government has argued that the program is mandatory and that states do not have the authority to opt out. At the same time, the program has contributed to an unprecedented number of deportations—more than a million people since President Obama took office in January 2009 and began ramping up the program, which had been launched the year earlier during the Bush administration.