Travis County Leads the Nation in Deportations
What is Secure Communities?
Secure Communities is a Department of Homeland Security (DHS) program designed to identify
immigrants in U.S. jails who are deportable under immigration law. Under Secure Communities,
participating jails submit arrestees’ fingerprints not only to criminal databases, but to immigration
databases as well, allowing Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) access to information on
individuals held in jails. Unlike other ICE‐local partnerships, Secure Communities gives ICE a
technological, not physical, presence in prisons and jails. Unlike the 287(g) program, no local law‐
enforcement agents are deputized to enforce immigration laws through Secure Communities.
As of September 27, 2011, Secure Communities was available in 1,595 jurisdictions in 44 states and
territories. ICE plans to implement Secure Communities in each of the 3,100 state and local jails across
the country by 2013. ICE reported that, as of September 30, 2011, over 11,000,000 fingerprint
submissions have resulted in 692,788 database matches. As a result of Secure Communities, ICE had
removed more than 142,000 persons.
How does Secure Communities work?
When an individual is booked into a jail, his or her fingerprints are regularly sent to the Federal Bureau
of Investigation (FBI) to be checked against criminal databases. With Secure Communities, the FBI then
sends the fingerprints to ICE, where they are checked against the U.S. Visitor and Immigrant Status
Indicator Technology Program (US‐VISIT) and the Automated Biometric Identification System (IDENT).
This fingerprint check allows state and local law enforcement and ICE automatically and immediately to
search the databases for an individual’s criminal and immigration history.
If there is a database “hit,” meaning that the arrested person is matched to a record indicating a
potential immigration violation, ICE and the local law‐enforcement authorities are notified. ICE then
evaluates each case to determine the individual’s immigration status and whether any action is
necessary or appropriate based on agency priorities. In most cases, ICE will issue a detainer against the
jailed individual. A detainer is a request from ICE to the arresting agency to notify ICE before it releases
the noncitizen so that ICE has the opportunity to decide whether the individual should be transferred to
federal custody rather than released.
ICE describes Secure Communities as “interoperability” between FBI and DHS databases. However, most
people believe that Secure Communities includes the entire process that begins with the arrest of the
individual by a local police officer and ends with ICE enforcement actions. Originally, ICE entered into
Memoranda of Agreement (MOAs) with State Identification Bureaus, which are responsible for data
sharing between the state and the federal government. Most believed that states had the option not to
enter into the MOA, or to terminate the MOA if they no longer wanted to participate in the program.
However, in August 2011, ICE rescinded all signed MOAs and announced that no signed agreement was
necessary for the data sharing to take place, and that the program is mandatory for all jurisdictions.
What are the concerns about Secure Communities?
Who does the program target? ICE has stated that it “prioritizes the removal of criminal aliens, those
who pose a threat to public safety, repeat immigration violators,” and “the most dangerous and violent
offenders.” However, the program has not focused exclusively on convicted criminals, dangerous and
violent offenders, or threats to public safety and national security. According to DHS data, in Fiscal Year
(FY) 2011, 26% of all Secure Communities deportations were immigrants with Level 1 convictions; 19%
of those deported had Level 2 convictions; and 29% were individuals convicted of Level 3 crimes (minor
crimes resulting in sentences of less than one year). Twenty‐six percent of those deported had
immigration violations and no criminal convictions. 1 ICE statistics show that some jurisdictions’ numbers
for Level 3 and non‐criminal deportations are well above the national average.
Obstacles to community policing. Unlike the 287(g) program, Secure Communities does not require an
MOA between ICE and the local jail, sheriff, or police department, and local police officers are not
directly enforcing federal immigration laws. Nonetheless, there are still concerns about local police
being seen as immigration agents. If ICE maintains a presence—even a technological presence—in a
local jail, the public will likely associate the local law‐enforcement agency with immigration
enforcement. Since ICE announced that the program is now mandatory for all jurisdictions, local
communities will automatically be included in the data sharing. While this decision may be challenged in
court or may be subject to other kinds of limitations, such as local communities declining to receive the
information, the link between federal and local enforcement is now definitive.
Profiling and pretextual arrests. There is a concern that police officers working in areas that have
Secure Communities in their local jails may have an incentive, or at least the ability, to make arrests
based on race or ethnicity, or to make pretextual arrests of persons they suspect to be in violation of
immigration laws, in order to have them run through immigration databases once they are jailed.
Opting out. Secure Communities raises serious questions about the relationship between federal and
local law‐enforcement agencies, and about local communities’ ability to weigh in on important decisions
that affect them. Since the program’s inception, ICE has provided confusing, and sometimes
contradictory, statements about whether localities could decline to participate in the program. Most
recently, ICE announced that it had withdrawn all existing MOAs with states, that MOAs were not
necessary, and that it would proceed with the program’s expansion unilaterally.
Lack of clear complaint mechanisms. Given the wide range of concerns about Secure Communities, it is
essential that there be a complaint or redress procedure for individuals who believe they have been
erroneously identified by DHS databases or who believe a DHS detainer has been issued in error. While
there is a complaint procedure through the DHS Office of Civil Rights and Civil Liberties (OCRCL), there is
continuing concern about immigrants’ lack of access to information about complaint procedures and
OCRCL’s capacity to handle the complaints it receives.
Lack of Oversight and Transparency. There has been a marked lack of transparency about the Secure
Communities program, and information obtained through a Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) request
indicates that ICE has mislead the public about various aspects of the program. Reports have found that
ICE has an uneven track record in terms of supervising its local partnerships, and there are concerns
about the level of oversight and transparency associated with Secure Communities.
• Secure Communities must become a program that focuses solely on those immigrants who have
been convicted of serious criminal offenses, or who have been identified by law‐enforcement
officials to pose a threat to national security or public safety. It is acknowledged that ICE has a
broader immigration enforcement mandate, but those objectives must be pursued outside of
Secure Communities. Secure Communities must be focused on public safety, which is the
common objective shared between DHS and local law‐enforcement agencies.
• The various prosecutorial discretion memos issued by ICE are an important step toward focusing
Secure Communities on serious criminal offenders. However, DHS and ICE must take additional
steps to ensure that discretion is actually being used. Immigrants and their attorneys must be
given clear instructions about the process and how to request the exercise of prosecutorial
discretion. DHS must train its law‐enforcement officers and others in the proper use of
• At a minimum, expansion of Secure Communities should be suspended until DHS has reviewed
and implemented the recommendations of the Secure Communities Task Force report which
has been adopted by the Homeland Security Advisory Committee. DHS must also review
upcoming reports from DHS, OIG, and the GAO. Further expansion should not be continued until
recommended reforms are completed and there is evidence that the stated goals and objectives
of the program will be met. Before expanding Secure Communities to a jurisdiction, DHS should
consider the direct and indirect effects that the program could have on public safety and
community policing in that jurisdiction.
• ICE must be more transparent and clarify the statutory authority for Secure Communities, the
purpose and goals of the Secure Communities program, how the program works, and whether it
is mandatory. The public should receive consistent information about the operation of Secure
Communities. Public outreach, community meetings, and information‐sharing should be a
central element of program implementation.
• ICE must make every effort to prevent racial or ethnic profiling. Before expanding the program
to a jurisdiction, OCRCL should review any investigations or lawsuits regarding alleged violations
of civil rights and civil liberties. All jurisdictions participating in Secure Communities should
receive training on civil rights and illegal racial or other profiling. OCRCL must examine data from
all activated jurisdictions for possible profiling and aggressive action must be taken against those
jurisdictions or officers found to be engaging in profiling or other violations of civil rights,
including termination of Secure Communities and/or other ICE ACCESS programs.
• DHS must create and implement a strong complaint and redress mechanism for individuals who
believe they have been wrongly arrested, detained, or otherwise mistreated under the Secure
1 Secure Communities Nationwide Interoperability Statistics, “Monthly Statistics through September 30, 2011,”
prepared October 14, 2011 (last checked November 16, 2011).